Gabby Douglas: Sports Celebrity Leader or Smart Capitalist?

Or both? You be the judge….

According to her website, here’s the update on Douglas’ accomplishments since her Olympic wins.

1. She’s published a book, written with Michelle Buford.  In it she writes:

Douglas' Book Cover

Douglas’ Book Cover

“For now, here’s what you need to know: Exactly 210 days before I ever attempted my first vault in the London Summer Olympics, my leap of faith came this close to ending in a crash of disaster. That’s why this isn’t simply the story of how a one-handed cartwheel at age three eventually landed me on the top of an Olympic podium. It’s also the story of how the people who love me the most literally lifted me up during the lowest moments of my journey. It’s the story of how I finally faced the truth about a dad I hardly even know. It’s a testimony of the one huge lesson that I’m still learning every day: With strong faith in God and some serious determination, every dream is possible – especially if your mama refuses to let you fly home, fry chicken and give up.” (from the Introduction)

So her myth — her archetypal story of faithful servant/family-centered good girl learning hard lessons in order to rise to the top of her field, all by the Grace of God– is now set in paper by the Christian book publisher, Zondervan Books. She has decided to become an evangelical leader, leading by example and inspiration, her life a testimony and model for a kind of servant leadership.

Her autobiography is #4 on the NY Times Young Adult list.

2. She is winning “good athletic citizenship” and achievement awards, most recently AP Female Athlete of the Year.

gabby-winsIn the article (linked above) Douglas said: “”I want people to think, ‘Gabby can do it, I can do it,'” Douglas said. “Set that bar. If you’re going through struggles or injuries, don’t let it stop you from what you want to accomplish.”

The AP article describes her youth, her enthusiasm, her determination and spirit, and her ongoing training to return to the Olympics next year — all rationale for offering her the award.

Certainly, she’s earned this attention, and she’s continuing to offer herself as a model, a typical athlete-leader role made more engaging by her winning personality and youth.


3. She’s sold her name and will be designing styles for GK Elite Sportswear in a signature leotard line.

One of the designs from the gk-elite website

One of the designs from the gk-elite website

From her website: “I am so honored & excited to have my own line of leotards with GK,” said Douglas. “Expressing my personality and love for gymnastics through this collection is a great way to share my creative ideas. I will be really proud when I see other gymnasts wearing my designs to practice!”

Once again, it’s about emulating (if not imagining you are becoming) Douglas, this time by wearing clothes marketed in her name. Closer to capitalism and fantasy here than the athletic achievement leadership, I think. But this is also part of the star system of athletics, and Douglas is seizing her day, and has a reported net worth of $3 million to date.

She seems to be hitting all the right notes: faith, determination and strategic visibility. As a leader, she’s chosen the role model track for now. As a businesswoman, she’s simply making sure she rides the wave and maintains the right image to keep riding it.

I imagine some of you are thinking I’m being a little cynical, because of course, she’s earned the celebrity she and her team are working so well.  It’s not so much cynicism as wait-and-see. An extraordinary athlete, a good kid, a fine marketing team — role model is a good start. For now, it’s the easiest path for a young athlete leader.

For Gabrielle Douglas (that’s what she’s called now — get used to it!), it’s only the first step into many possibilities. If she follows this path, hook line and sinker, and stays authentic — that is, clean and true to her script, she’ll have a nice life and a lot of fans, especially among girl gymnasts, Christians and African Americans looking for role models of achievement. It’s a good base, a clean start.

Does she want more, or will she, eventually? I wonder what she’ll be like when she grows up (and out?) of her golden girl moment?







  1. […] written a lot about both Gabrielle (Gabby) Douglas and her multimillion dollar career as an athelete, including her best-selling co-written book, and […]


  2. […] as fading darling: I wonder if it has to do with the ways she’s been so effectively promoted into the public eye, creating a reported net worth of $3 million and a squeaky clean but ra…. As an African American athlete, she is still a trailblazer, but she may have saturated the market […]


  3. […] the way, Gabrielle Douglas is navigating this territory with a clearer story: innocent Christian girl, disciplined athlete. And she’s raking it in! So it’s hard to […]


  4. […] of a role model is rarely long term. As we see in the shiny coffers and earnest marketability of Gabby Douglas, smart money management in the heyday of celebrity is the best preparation for the day they lose […]


  5. […] about gymnast Gabby (Gabrielle) Douglas in 2014. After all, the girl is a remarkable athlete and a mostly dignified, charming celebrity. She’s climbed nimbly up on the Olympic pedestal, and balances there with aplomb. Lifetime […]


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