Guest editorial…Media mischief with Williams, Douglas

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Gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas and tennis star Serena Williams each won two gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Their athletic accomplishments are something to admire and celebrate.

Yet the media have somewhat distracted from their accomplishments with stories on Douglas’ hair and Williams doing a so-called Crip walk dance in celebration.

Both Douglas and Williams are surprised by the so-called controversies.

So are we.

Douglas said she was a little confused when she logged onto her computer after winning her second gold medal in three days and discovered people were debating her pulled back hair look.

“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair” said Douglas, the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in team and all-around competition. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short; it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”

The 16-year-old had no idea that she was lighting up social media until she Googled herself hours after winning her gold medal.

Serena Williams was probably also caught by surprise that there would a controversy in social and mainstream media after dancing in celebration after she handily beat Maria Sharapova in a little over an hour for the women’s singles gold medal.

Anyone watching the match could see that Williams’ spontaneous celebration was not an attempt to promote gang culture.

“It’s just a dance we do in California,” said Williams when asked about it during the post-match news conference.

She told the Daily Mail in London: “It was just me. I love to dance. I didn’t know what else to do. I was so happy and next thing I know I started dancing and moving.

I didn’t plan it. It just happened.”

However, some in the media saw the dance as an opportunity to attack Williams.

Bill Plaschke, a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times tweeted, “Isn’t there some kind of dance by multimillionaires who live in exclusive South Florida neighborhoods? Serena C-walking at Wimbledon only shows how long she’s been away from home, separated from violence and death associated with that dance.”

Clinton Yates of Roots DC said Williams “inadvertently set off a firestorm that is misguided and dripping with racist, patronizing overtones.”

In the case of Douglas the ignorant comments made by some African-American women on social media were amplified by the mainstream media as if it was a legitimate news story. The comments of a few became an excuse to create a fake controversy and generalize about the pettiness of African-American women.

Ridiculous comments are regularly made on the Internet and in social media but they are not used as a basis for sociological commentary or psychological insight.

What is most disappointing in the Douglas and Williams’ controversy is not the comments made of a few in social media and on the blogosphere. After all anyone with access to a computer can express vile comments on social media.

But there is something deeply wrong when professional journalists start taking their cue on what to write from the largely anonymous users of social media.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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