Gabby Douglas: I Almost Quit Over Racist Digs

Bullied, called 'slave,' Douglas tells Oprah
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 28, 2012 1:57 AM CDT
Updated Aug 28, 2012 3:12 AM CDT
Gold Medal Gabby Bares Racist Digs at Training
Gabby Douglas performs on the balance beam during the preliminary round of the women's Olympic gymnastics trials in San Jose, Calif., earlier this summer.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

America's darling gold medalist Gabby Douglas was so distraught by fellow athletes' bullying and racist taunts during early training that she often cried herself to sleep, she confides to Oprah Winfrey. Gabby, 16, nearly gave up her dream to be an Olympic gymnast because she was tormented at a gym where she trained in Virginia Beach. “I was getting racist jokes, being isolated from the group. It was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out,” she says on Oprah's Next Chapter. She recalled one teammate asking another to clean a bar. “And they were like, ‘Why doesn’t Gabby do it, she’s our slave,’” she added. "I was the only African-American at that gym. I definitely felt isolated. Why am I deserving this? Is it because I’m black?—those thoughts were going through my mind.”

It was difficult for her mother, too, who heard Gabby's painful stories. When Gabby was 14 she finally told her mom: "I'd rather quit. If I can’t move and train and get another coach, I’d rather quit the sport," said Natalie Hawkins, who allowed her daughter to move to Iowa to train with a new coach. After Gabby snagged two gold medals in London she was stunned to encounter other haters who criticized her for her hair. Gabby's old gym yesterday denied members bullied her or were racist. "Gabby's remarks were hurtful and without merit," Excalibur Gymnastics CEO Gustavo Maure said in a statement to E! News. "We've had more African Americans on the national team than any other gym in the country. Her African-American former teammates will answer this serious accusation. We are good people. We never were knowingly involved in any type of bullying or racist treatment." (More 2012 London Olympics stories.)

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