Stop Telling Gymnasts To Smile, Please
Everybody — and I'm looking at you, commentators — needs to stop telling gymnasts to smile already. Sure, gymnastics is entertaining to watch and may be making you smile as you watch. The gymnasts, however, are in the middle of the fiercest competition of their careers. If you're not going to tell a football player to smile, then it's unfair to require a gymnast to do the same. Just because you think Simone Biles has a pretty smile, doesn't mean she owes you one.
There's an obvious double standard when it comes to the way people talk about women's sports and men's sports. The United States of America has an unbelievable amount of supremely talented athletes competing in the Olympics. It's been amazing to watch the likes of Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Laurie Hernandez, and Mara Abbott take to the international competition with such tenacity and heart. These athletes should be equally celebrated for their athletic accomplishments in Rio, no matter if they're taking part in the women's or men's competition. This isn't always the case though, and there's been some controversy over the sexist commentary being made around the women's competitions.
This double standard has never been more apparent than in the women's gymnastics competition. During the all around competition on Thursday, the commentators frequently suggested that the female athletes should be smiling more. I'm sorry, but these women are competing for Olympic gold. Whether or not they have their best and brightest smiles on for the commentators is probably not their first priority.
Smiling is not one of the many fine tuned skills an Olympic athlete needs to bring home a gold medal. If it were, many of the male Olympic athletes would be in trouble. It's ridiculous to demand our female athletes to be happy and bubbly at all times when we do not demand the same of their male counterparts.
This is not the first time Team USA has had to deal with negative comments over their appearance in Rio. Gabby Douglas faced a firestorm of criticism over her facial expression during the National Anthem. Bill Plaschke, a sports journalist for The L.A. Times, called Douglas "disconnected" as well as "blank and distant." He swiftly dismissed her explanation, in which she revealed she was greatly overwhelmed, and said he would have been able to tell if that was case. Douglas handled this criticism in the best way she could: She helped USA win the gold medal in the team competition. Douglas and her teammates didn't just win, they comprehensively destroyed the competition. They finished with a total of 8.209 points, the largest margin of victory since 2006.
Olympic athletes have sacrificed more than we can imagine to compete in Rio. They've given their blood, sweat, and tears to make their country proud. They don't have to give us a smile, too.