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Gabby Douglas 'devastated' by social media bullies

By Alex Butler
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Gabby Douglas 'devastated' by social media bullies
American gymnast Gabby Douglas (R) hugs teammate Aly Raisman after Douglas completed her routine in the uneven bars during the Women's Artistic Gymnastics Team Finals of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 9. The U.S. team edged out the Russians, who won the silver medal, and the Chinese won the bronze. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Not long ago, American gymnast Gabby Douglas was the darling of the Summer Games.

She graced television screens, winning the Olympic all-around gold medal and a team gold medal in the 2012 Summer Games.

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At 16 years old, she became the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion. Then she came into American homes again, proudly smiling in commercials.

The only similarity for Douglas this summer in Rio de Janeiro has been golden. The criticism she has received on social media platforms has "devastated" the young superstar, according to her mom. She was part of a dominant American team who won gold in the women's team final in Rio. But she placed seventh in the uneven bars and failed to qualify for the individual all-around event at the Summer Games.

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"You go from people's adoration to being the brunt of criticism and hatred," Natalie Hawkins said of her daughter in a CNN interview. "It is hard, because her nature is so giving and so kind."

Critics have accused Douglas of skin-bleaching, mocked her hair, and remarked about her "crabby Gabby" demeanor when camera's caught her not encouraging her teammates. Those critics also aimed at her for not holding her hand over her heart during the national anthem.

RELATED Leslie Jones on Rio Olympics: 'It's a time where all of us can forget about all the B.S.'

"I tried to stay off the Internet because there's just so much negativity," Douglas told ESPN. "Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart, or I look depressed...It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It's been kind of a lot to deal with."

Douglas' mom said that her daughter is having a tough time with the criticism. She compared Douglas to a sponge, soaking up the negativity.

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"Not good. How well can you cope with things like that? When you go from people's adoration to being the brunt of all the criticism and the hatred," Hawkins told CNN. "It's hard because her nature is so giving and so kind. She literally is just a very tender-hearted person, and so she was devastated. She tried to push it off and tried not to focus on it but in the end, she couldn't understand it. She's a people pleaser. She loves to please people. So when she saw everybody was attacking her for something she didn't even know that she did wrong."

Douglas offered an apology to the critics last week.

"I support them, and I'm sorry that I wasn't showing it, and I should have," Douglas told the Los Angeles Times. "But for me, it's just like – it's been a lot. And I've been through a lot. But I still love them. I still love the people who love me, still love them who hate me, and I'm just going to stand on that."

Rapper Killer Mike was among many standing up for Douglas Monday on social media.

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"I'm sorry Some blacks are ashamed of the hair that nature knew best to give us becuz as a sun people our kinky courtly hair is our best insulator to keep our scalps and body cool," Killer Mike wrote on Instagram. "I'm sorry we don't always understand nature made us perfect just the way we are."

"I'm sorry Americans don't understand that simply being their and competing for your country proves you a worthy patriot," Killer Mike wrote. "Any one can place their hands over their hearts for a song but you sacrificed your childhood and hours of your life to compete on behalf of your country so lazy [expletive] people can watch your sacrifice & celebrate your accomplishments. A sacrifice they would never make simply So they can say WE/The USA won a medal. Our bragging rights come Becuz athletes like yourself actually Sacrifice.

"I just wanna say I'm sorry those Lame's both black and white tried to shame one of the best among us Becuz they are not able to be as great."

"Lastly, Thank U Sister. Thank U for inspiring a legion of small black girls & other races and cultures to be the best human beings they can be. I am proud to watch you and know my 9yr old daughter looks up to you."

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"Thank U, Gabby. Thank U Champion. #BlackGirlMagic Is Real. Love and respect sister. Always."

Others have since stood behind Douglas on social media, popularizing the "#love4gabbyusa" hashtag.

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