Gabby Douglas should have spent Wednesday basking in the glow of the USA women's gymnastics team's gold medal victory at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, she found herself forced to defend the fact that, during the ceremony where the team was given its medals, she stood with her hands at her sides, rather than over her heart, as the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played.
Douglas' gesture, or lack thereof, was immediately pounced upon across social media, where she was accused of disrespecting the country for which she literally just earned a gold medal.
In response to the growing chorus of complaints over her posture during the anthem, Douglas tweeted a statement that both acknowledged the criticism, and refocused the intensified attention where it rightly belongs—on her, and Team USA's dominant victory at the 2016 Rio games.
First I want to say thank you everyone for all your support. It's a huge honor for me to be able to represent #TeamUSA. In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand out at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I'm so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!
Douglas' apology likely puts to rest the criticism she faced following the medal ceremony, but already a backlash against the backlash has begun to call out the hypocrisy inherent in singling out Douglas' non-faux pas.
One user hypothesized that Douglas' posture may have been a subtle nod toward Black empowerment and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Whether a deliberately political gesture (a la Tommy Smith and Jon Carlos in 1968) or not, there is no punishment for not holding your hand over your heart during the anthem. As Slate pointed out in 2007, that would likely be a violation of a person's first amendment right.
Besides, Douglas is in good company—that same year, not-yet President Barack Obama faced similar criticism after he was photographed with his hands at his sides during the National Anthem. "My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was two," he explained at the time. "During the Pledge of Allegiance you put your hand over your heart. During the national anthem you sing."