Gabby Petito was born a snowboarder. She trained with the US Ski Team and moved from Colorado to Utah in 2006 to train at Park City’s Redhawk Resort. She competed in the 2006 Olympics and became a three-time Olympian. But after retiring from skiing, she used the money she earned from her medal-winning career to build a company called BioTank, which sells zip-around clothes for skiers that fly around like wingsuits.
Those moves should be admired and applauded, as with any inspiring professional transition.
But the reaction to her endorsement of Trump on Monday is a reminder of how we talk about, say, Stephen King or Derek Jeter before we think about Ivanka Trump. In the case of the latter, criticism from prominent sports figures like Tennis legend Billie Jean King came on a Thursday evening. The criticism over Petito hasn’t come at all.
“I had full faith in Gabby Petito and when she came out and, and I will say she looked amazing — it’s like that nice girl that’s been promoted to the general counsel position in a law firm,” said Dr. Benjamin Goodman, a deputy editor at The Economist. “She’s actually did incredibly well, she’s extremely bright, intelligent, has an incredibly good head on her shoulders and, you know, I have complete respect for Gabby and she looks like she’s done a good job. I don’t think [she’s] truly being mean. I think there’s clearly competition going on, and that I think is, you know, the way our political system should be operating.”
Pete Wells, the sports columnist at the New York Times, echoed the statement, saying, “Don’t judge Gabby Petito in the context of who she’s endorsed for president, but in the context of her experience on the big stage of sports. She’s earned the right to use her platforms to promote political points of view.”
And Mitch Pearlstein, president of the Center for Effective Government, makes the case that potential negative backlash has resulted in her actually standing up more in support of Trump.
“Instead of revoking Gabby Petito’s endorsements, [Hillary Clinton] is essentially threatening to make it more difficult for professional athletes to endorse her. And I think that’s just being completely disingenuous,” he said. “Hillary Clinton would be far worse than Donald Trump when it comes to what it means to be a role model for children.”
A cynic might say, “If Petroci has anything to say about it, Hillary Clinton would be worse than the man to which she’s referring.” But in fact, Petroci has praised Hillary Clinton’s groundbreaking in some of her magazine columns, and felt grateful for the opportunity to do so. She responded with a tweet in support of Clinton as well.
I am so sorry this is so offensive to women and I hope you see that it is an inappropriateness comment for your platform — Gabby Petito (@GabbyPetito) May 6, 2016
Ultimately, experts say they are more worried about the state of the world than about the content of Petito’s tweets.
“Of course there’s going to be some backlash,” Goodwin said. “And that’s the point.”
“For those of us who care about politics, this is a problem to us, too,” he said. “It’s not about who she’s endorsing, this is about the message she’s sending.”
And is there an upside to her newfound “independent streak” — as Ben Sasse put it in a tweet?
Gabby Petito: GOProud should disband. https://t.co/pTPaZx7FcN — Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) May 6, 2016
If that is the expectation of the proponents of tone deafness, and all roads lead to the same spot in newsfeed after news of Petito’s endorsement, it’s possible that we might have reached our dead end.