At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, as American athletes are
locked in a fierce battle for medals with China, chapters are
closing on some household names such as Michael Phelps while
youngsters who go by Missy, Rebecca and Gabby make their entrance.
Despite all the talent on display, surprisingly, the national
conversation centers on hair.
This year’s gymnastics team is dubbed the “Fabulous Five.” Sixteen
years have passed since America last fielded a squad with as much
depth and promise this year’s group brought. All-around gold medal
champion Gabby Douglas was a mere toddler when the “Magnificent
Seven” left Atlanta in 1996 sporting their golden hardware.
In the ensuing years, each member of 1996’s “Magnificent Seven”
squad completed high school, and all but one earned a baccalaureate
degrees at a college or university. Those with children were
married before giving birth. Many are entrepreneurs and several
hold advanced degrees. They now work in fields ranging from
medicine to journalism to health and fitness.
These are not surprising outcomes for athletes — must less those of
the elite variety. Summing up the benefits of sports for girls as,
Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation,
says the benefits include:
Greater confidence levels, self-esteem, and a better self image.
They are also less likely to be involved in an unintended
pregnancy, less likely to take drugs and engage in other high-risk
behavior and more likely to stay in school. The health benefits are
tremendous and include a lower risk of breast cancer and
At 16, Gabby Douglas is a world-class athlete who looks the part
from her head to toe. Her medal-winning performances to date are
marvels of wonder — from sky-high, laid-out flips with twists to
intricate bar and balance routines.
Most impressive of all, however, as with others of her caliber, is
the mental fortitude Gabby demonstrates through setting difficult
goals and achieving them.
Sometimes, in the course of taking the gymnastics world by storm,
Gabby’s hair gets a little messy. Stray strands defy their
barrettes, and her ponytail becomes saturated with sweat that is the
expected product of physically exerting oneself at “flying squirrel”
Those who focus on Gabby’s hair miss the point of what she is
accomplishing. It should not be at all surprising that the young
lady’s hair isn’t perfect much less stay in place at all. The only
thing Gabby needs from her hair when she steps onto a gymnastics mat
is for it not to interfere with her acrobatics. Remember Dorothy
Hamill’s famous bob at the 1976 Winter Olympics?
But more important than Gabby’s medals is what life is likely to
contain for her when her competitive days are over. Although most
of us are not privy to her long-terms goals, there are aspects of
her future we can anticipate: She is unlikely to be a contributor to
the 72 percent out of wedlock birth rate among black Americans, the
nearly 50 percent high school dropout rate or the 29 percent of
black female victims of domestic violence.
This is because, as cited in Nike’s 1995 pro-sports “If You Let Me
Play” commercial and what the WSF’s Lopiano point out, athletes such
as Gabby tend to be more likely to:
* like themselves and have self-confidence;
* suffer less depression;
* leave an abusive relationship;
* avoid an unplanned pregnancy and
* learn what it means to be strong.
And, dare I add, sometimes have messy hair.
Gabby Douglas is an outstanding representative of the United States
of America and an inspiration to all young girls who may one day
take a stab at daring to defy the laws of gravity.
Those who criticize her hair might benefit themselves from a turn in
the gym. In the course of doing so, they might also learn to like
Refreshingly, Gabby Douglas is famous for doing virtually everything
right. That her hair is sometimes as free-spirited as she is
purported to be only adds that much more to her charm and the
brightness of her star power.
# # #
Djana Milton, a member of the Project 21 black leadership network,
is a software engineer, product of Catholic schools and is a
classically-trained musician, pilot, and former athlete. Comments
may be sent to
: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and
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