Gabby Douglas Thanks God… Why is This News?

Normally I don’t get heated about the Olympics, but a Salon post by Mary Elizabeth Williams titled “Did God help Gabrielle Douglas Win?” did it. Williams claims that Gabby’s faith is a little unnerving because she talks about it all of the time. I really would like to ask Williams: Is this really about proselytizing about God or is this about the author’s discomfort with different styles of expressing faith?

Gabrielle Douglas is very upfront about her Christianity, even thanking God for her win. Like many, presumably including Williams, I was rooting for Gabby to win gold. When she did, and Kormova broke out in tears, the first thing I thought was, I wonder if the pity for the blonde girl will override Gabby’s win?

Shameful, yes, but hey, I live in America, where the announcers describe white athletes as graceful, while black athletes are powerful, with brute strength. According to one blogger:

This year the undisputed champion of the Racist Announcer Watch: Olympics Edition is J.P. Dellacamera. Dellacamera is a former US Soccer player and has been calling Olympic soccer for MSNBC. During a game between Great Britain and Senegal last Thursday… [he] repeatedly call[ed] out the Senegalese team for being aggressive, overly physical and “uber-athletic.” His crowning moment came about ten minutes into the second half however when he dropped this bomb. “I played a lot of international games against African teams. You have to be careful about there. They get stuck into challenges a little bit harder and for a little bit longer than most teams. It’s just in their nature.”

Gabby has already had pejorative comments made about her both on twitter and by commentators. Now she has to be examined by a grown woman about how she chooses to express her faith? DAMN. Give her a break. Gabby has given up living with her family to move to Iowa to pursue a dream. Not many people could or would do that.

So forgive me if I am upset about Williams asking whether the Russian girl went down because Gabby prayed to win. Really? What does that mean?

I don’t think Williams is concerned about Gabby’s faith at all, but about Williams wanting to tell us all about what she believes. Her whole last paragraph is filled with ‘I’ statements. Proselytizing much?

As a Religious Studies professor, I can tell you that proselytism is a serious issue around the world. People have died for doing it. It can be very harmful, especially to close families when one person converts and sends an army of their new religious friends to convince family members. What Gabby Douglas did was share her beliefs on Twitter and Facebook. She’s a 16-year-old. She’s not knocking on doors selling Bibles, or preaching on a street corner. She is doing what most 16-year-olds do: expressing herself in the avenues that are available to her. Last night, Gabby had a network and millions of people listening. She earned the right to say whatever she wanted to. After all, that’s what “Freedom” is about, right? Or is that just for some?

After a week of looking at Christians line up to eat Chick-fil-A to support their vision of marriage, I’m a bit tired of Americanized Christianity this week myself, but that doesn’t mean that Gabby has to shut up about Jesus just because one writer thinks the grace that she believes in doesn’t extend to Gabby’s spectacular win.

If you don’t like it, change the channel. Besides, why not pick on the hordes who descended upon Chick-fil-A this week for hate, rather than a young black woman who will inspire a generation of young women to get out of bed, exercise, and be disciplined? Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to watch Gabby—atheist and believer alike—and revel in her artistry and determination.

Anthea Butler [@AntheaButler] is a Contributing Editor to Religion Dispatches. Her forthcoming book, in’The Gospel According To Sarah: How Sarah Palinin’’s Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right will be out in 2013.