Race remark ‘out of line,’ parent of world champ says
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports
Once again racist comments took hostage of a proud moment for a 16-year-old American gymnast. In this case the moment belonged to Simone Biles who became the first black woman to win a world all-around title last week.
After Biles won bronze on the balance beam at worlds in Antwerp, Belgium, Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito said in a video interview, “I told (teammate Vanessa Ferrari) that next time we should also paint our skin black so then we can win, too.”
“I found it very insulting,” Biles father, Ron, told USA TODAY Sports from their home in Spring, Texas. “The racial comment was really out of line.”
Biles mother, Nellie, said she had a talk with her daughter the past two days when the family learned about the comments. “It did bother her,” Nellie said. “I told her, ‘Don’t get roped into this’ and, ‘Don’t let those comments ruin this moment for you. Just be proud of your performance and outcome.’ People are entitled to their opinion. For her to go into this racism stuff is pointless, and she’s not going to address it.”
Ron Biles added that he found the comments ironic since “normally it’s not in her favor being black, at least not in the world that I live in.” However, he said his daughter has moved on. “She’s not fazed by it,” he said.
USA Gymnastics officials said Wednesday they plan to contact the Italian federation about the incident. Ferlito apologized via Twitter on Tuesday: “I want to apologize with the Americans girls. I didn’t want to sound rude or racist. I love Simone and I’m a huge fan of USA gymnastics.” She added, “I’ve made a mistake, I’m not perfect … I didn’t think about what I was saying. I’m just a human. I’m so so sorry.”
USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny released a statement Wednesday: “The United States is proud of its athletes and the success they achieved at our recent World Championships, especially Simone, who won the all-around title and brought home four medals. USA Gymnastics is disappointed by the recent comments made by Carlotta Ferlito and apparently by the Italian Gymnastics Federation. Gymnastics is a global and inclusive sport with talented athletes, and there is no place for racial insensitivity. We are contacting the Italian federation for clarification on its comments.”
Biles flew home to Texas on Monday, and by Tuesday afternoon she said life was back to normal. “The little girls at the gym are freaking out a little bit, saying hi and giving me hugs and stuff, but that’s it,” Biles told USA TODAY Sports.
Last summer at the London Games, Gabby Douglas, at age 16, became the first black woman to win the Olympic all-around gold medal. Douglas received criticism on Twitter for her straightened hair, a racially sensitive issue in the African-American community.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” she said then. “What’s wrong with my hair? I just simply gelled it back, put some clips in it and put it in a bun. Are you kidding me? I just made history. And you’re focusing on my hair? I just want to say, we’re all beautiful inside out. I don’t think people should be worried about that. Nothing is going to change.”