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A Trailblazer: Paris McGee Jr. challenges norms of a male gymnast

Fourth-year in journalism and Ohio State gymnast Paris McGee views himself not as an athlete first but as a student. Credit: Alyssia Graves | Former Assistant Sports Director

Paris McGee Jr. noticed something about men’s gymnastics: there were no men on the floor that looked like him.

When he got to college, he strived to change that.

Since he was a little kid, McGee’s parents had him involved in a plethora of activities. He started off as a model and actor for Nickelodeon Jr and performed on Broadway.

To add on to his long lists of talents, McGee wanted to learn how to flip. Fulfilling their ambitious boy’s dreams, his parents got him involved in gymnastics when he was 8, McGee said.

Four months later, he said he was already good enough to make the competitive team.

“In my first level six regional competition, I remember going into the competition and my coach telling us that the other kids were going to be a lot better than us so don’t expect to medal, just give it your best shot,” McGee said. “I walked away with six out of seven titles.”

When McGee practiced the next day, he said no one acknowledged his success. It was then that he had noticed that his talents were far more advanced than his teammates, which everyone was shocked by.

A few years later, schools like Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska began to show deep interest in McGee. He eventually decided to join the Cornhuskers.

After his freshman year, McGee had decided that Nebraska was not the best fit for him. He struggled with the decision of giving up gymnastics altogether and going back home to pick up where he left off in his modeling career.

“I was going to go back home to NYU to focus on school and officially quit gymnastics and maybe give acting and modeling another shot,” McGee, now a redshirt senior, said. “I decided to at least give gymnastics one more shot. So I came to Ohio State because I wanted to, at the very least, stop gymnastics on my terms and not anyone else’s.”

According to the NCAA demographics research, there are currently 20 African American male gymnasts. This makes up roughly 6 percent of the sport.

Remi Roberts, a student coach on the George Washington University women’s gymnastics team, said these numbers don’t surprise her.

“As a little girl, there would only be about one black boy on each team or at a meet, if even that,” Roberts said.

This is one aspect to college athletics that McGee has noticed and has bothered him throughout his collegiate career.

McGee had trouble connecting with his teammates and feeling like he belonged due to a gap in their cultures that everyone expected him to adjust and fill in. It even made him wish that he had been on teams like track or football.

He said, being the only black player on the team, he would go to a lot of social gatherings that were predominately white, making him stand out.

When those roles were reversed, McGee said his friends had a difficult time.

“One of my teammates left a party that we went to that was predominantly black because he was uncomfortable,” McGee said. “What hurt me was that what I live through on a day-to-day basis, he couldn’t even handle for 10 minutes, but it wasn’t an issue when I had to go through it.”

McGee is aware that this culture of being expected to fit in isn’t limited to just him.

Where he lacked support from other racial groups, he expected to find it in his own. This wasn’t the case. McGee said the lack of black male participation comes from the derogation of the sport in the black community.

“The black community looks at gymnastics as an attack on our masculinity,” McGee said.

According to McGee, there has only been one black male NCAA all-around gymnastics champion. He wants to see this number increase.

McGee said he is willing to fight his battles to show little black boys in the crowd watching, like he once was, that they belong.

“I did it so you can do it,” McGee said. “There’s no excuse. And if you do do it just know that you are going to have an army of people behind you.”

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