When you think of Black people who have earned the title of being “THE FIRST (Fill In The Blank)” as it relates to sports, legends like Jack Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe come to mind. These athletes are historically significant because they broke the color barrier in their respective sports and in the face of very difficult odds went on to become champions. Simply put, they rose above adversity to become the best of the best.

When it comes to Black people who have earned the distinction of being “THE FIRST” in Olympic competition, some of the names on this short list are:

  • FIRST BLACK Olympic medalist (Summer games): George Poage, 1904, won two bronze medals in the 200 m hurdles and 400 m hurdles.
  • FIRST BLACK Olympic gold medalist (Summer games): John Baxter “Doc” Taylor, 1908, won a gold medal as part of the 4 x 400 m relay team.
  • FIRST BLACK Olympic gold medalist (Summer games; individual): DeHart Hubbard, 1924, for the long jump; the first woman was Alice Coachman, who won the high jump in 1948.
  • FIRST BLACK Olympic medalist (Winter games): Debi Thomas, 1988, won the bronze in figure skating.
  • FIRST BLACK Olympic gold medalist (Winter games): Vonetta Flowers, 2002, bobsled.
  • FIRST BLACK Olympic gold medalist (Winter games; individual): Shani Davis, 2006, 1,000 m speedskating.

We can now add Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, aka The Flying Squirrel, to this esteemed group. On July 31, 2012 she won a gold medal as a member of the “Fab Five” U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Gabby competed on every apparatus during the team final, and contributed more than 61 points to this Gold medal winning effort. The Fab Five is only the second U.S. team in Olympic history to win the team gold medal. The first was “The Magnificent Seven”, who won the team gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. Interestingly enough, the FIRST BLACK WOMAN to make a U.S. gymnastics team and win a medal of any sort in this sport was on this team – Dominique Dawes.

On August 2, 2012, Gabby became the FIRST BLACK athlete and the FIRST BLACK WOMAN to win the all-around competition in gymnastics. She is the FIRST AMERICAN WOMAN to win gold in both the team and all-around competitions. She is only the second Black woman to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. She is one of five American women to win the all around competition. She won the all-around gold medal with a score of 62.232. Douglas hit on every routine, earning a 15.966, her best score, on the vault. It set the table for her to score a 15.733 on bars, 15.5 on beam, and a 15.033 on floor. She scored 15.000 or better in 11 of 12 performances across the three days of competition, which is unheard in terms of accuracy. Simply put, she rose above adversity and proved to the world that she is the best of the best.

As rare and amazing as this accomplishment is, instead of winning unanimous adulation and praise from the Black community, Gabby was criticized by some for the way that she wore her hair during the competition. Now I love my people, but when Black folks display ignorance and pettiness of such epic proportions, as some have in this instance, somebody has to say something. So as a lover of the Olympics and cheerleader for Black achievement in sports, here is my incensed rant.

If after watching this trailblazing young lady win two gold medals and beat the world’s best with such beauty and grace, all you noticed is her hair, then you should not be allowed to watch the Olympics, or any other sporting event for that matter, ever again. Because it is clear that you don’t know what the hell you are watching or commenting on. You clearly do not understand what the Olympics are all about, how elite these athletes are who make the team and compete at this level, and what their priorities are when they are ON THE WORLD STAGE REPRESENTING THEIR COUNTRY. I know that some of us feel that anytime a Black person is in public eye that they represent the entire race, but in the case of Black Olympic athletes they actually represent their country first. THE OLYMPICS ARE NOT A FREAKING HAIR SHOW OR FASHION SHOW OR FAKE REALITY SHOW where everything is artificially perfect. This is a real life sporting competition where the stakes are extremely high, as an outstanding Olympic performance can be a life changing thing for an athlete and their family. This is the BIGGEST SPORTING COMPETITION IN THE WORLD. This is all about representing your country and competing to WIN A MEDAL FOR YOUR ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENT, NOT YOUR HAIR. Whether you are competing individually or as a member of a team, you are there to do one thing and one thing only, to do your best to win for yourself, your team, your country. In most cases, for these athletes this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has taken them most of their young lives to bring to fruition. Not only has this been a lifelong pursuit for the athlete, it has required a significant investment of time, money and sacrifice from their parents and family to get them to this point. Gabby’s mom struggled mightily to get her the gymnastic training she needed. When this was no longer good enough to allow her child to fulfill her potential, she reluctantly let Gabby move half way across the country to live with another family so that she could pursue her dream and become the very best she could be. Gabby had to leave her family at a very young age and fight home sickness and the urge to quit. If you think this has anything to do with hair, you are about as ignorant as they come. There used to be a time when Black folks were proud of the extraordinary accomplishments of other Black folks…what the hell has happened to plummet us to such an all-time low where we criticize an Olympic athlete’s hair??? How shallow can you be???

Maybe this ignorance results from never having competed in sports at any significant level. Maybe these people have never been a part of a team or participated in anything that was bigger than themselves. So here’s a news flash – if you are a Black woman and you participate in sports, you are going to sweat out your hair. That is the deal. But if you are a true competitor and you are really great at your sport this is a trade off that you are willing to make. Let’s see…worry about my hair or use my god given talent to beat the best in the world and become the FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO BE AN OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS ALL AROUND GOLD MEDALIST AT 16. Hmmmmm….seems like this would be an easy choice, even for someone with half a brain. But if you are still coming down on the side of hair, then you have clearly missed the point of my rant. And thankfully you are among a pathetic few, because the rest of the world gets it. While you were nit picking this childs hair, the rest of the world saw a modern day, color barrier breaking performance on par with Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson in a sport that up until very recently was pretty much all white, and until now HAS NEVER HAD A BLACK CHAMPION. When you are old and have lost all of your damn hair, this record will still stand because GABBY IS THE FIRST. Little Black girls sitting at home who watched her win will be inspired to become gymnasts or go on achieve all kinds of important things. Just like Dominique Dawes inspired Gabby.

Who does your hair inspire? You truly missed a rare opportunity to truly experience Black history in the making. I feel sorry for you.

I salute Gabby Douglas. I salute Gabby’s mom who did everything that she could to help her child realize her dream. I salute Gabby’s sister who would not let her quit. I salute these STRONG BLACK WOMEN who did not let any obstacle (including hair) stand in the way of greatness. Because of their perseverance they created history and touched the world.


I am done now.

Back to watching the Olympics.

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