Apr 11, 2022 - News

Podcast examines journeys of Black gymnasts

Gabby Douglas in midflight.

Gabby Douglas competes on the balance beam at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A recently launched Austin-produced podcast tells the story of how Black gymnasts in the United States went from the margins of the sport to its top billing.

Driving the news: The latest episode of "American Prodigies," a gripping, inspirational and often heartbreaking pod, drops Monday.

  • Through interviews with the athletes, family members, journalists and others, the podcast reflects on the journeys of Betty Okino, Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and more.
  • Themes of Black identity, love of sport and physical sacrifice run through the podcast amid the demands of a white coaching and scoring culture.
  • "White coaches pulled me aside and said, 'You may not get the scores you deserve because you're Black,'" one athlete says — and another recounts the ways she was asked to change her hair.

The pod is hosted by Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State University, who is currently in Austin as a Harrington Fellow at the University of Texas.

  • And it's produced by Jessica Luther, who has broken some of the big stories at the intersection of sports and sexual violence, including the Baylor rape scandal.

What they're saying: "There's a tension between the fact between we want these to be little girls who are doing quite literally death-defying things — and we want them to look like they're having fun while they’re doing it," Luther told Axios.

  • "We wanted to think more wholly about this person. Most of us know about gymnasts what NBC packages for us every four years. For Amira, this was about humanizing and rounding out these athletes in this lily-white sport that they've made a space in for themselves," Luther added.

The bottom line: The pod "gives space for these voices that we oftentimes don't hear, unless we're kind of celebrating it in a one dimensional way," Davis said on "Burn It All Down," a feminist podcast and a terrific listen that she and Luther co-host.


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