Laurie Hernandez Speaks Out on Internet Trolls and Cyberbullies: ‘They Would Never Say That to Your Face’

People

Laurie Hernandez earned the moniker “The Human Emoji” because of her effervescent personality and infectious wide-eyed grin, but the Olympic gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars winner admits she’s not always smiling — especially while looking at social media.

“Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, they can be really harsh places,” Hernandez, 17, tells PEOPLE. “People feel some sense of empowerment, whether good or bad, when they are behind a screen and a username.”

Though she’s currently on a year-long break from competition, the teen leads a busy life with global appearances and partnerships — many of which she posts about on her Instagram page.

“I’m always on social media, of course,” says Hernandez, an Alcon Dailies contact lenses spokesperson. “So I’ve learned to ignore the online trolls in the comments, because I’ve realized that if you met that person in real life, they would never say that to your face. 

“And if someone is mean, I’m like, ‘Well what are you going to do about it? You’re behind a screen!’ ”

The gymnast says online bullying and body-shaming is something she and her final five teammates — including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Gabby Douglas — all deal with.

“It happens in sports, but thankfully my teammates are so kind and supportive,” she explains. “We all stand with each other, you have to, because kindness wins.”

For Rio Olympic Stars, spotlight hasn’t faded 

USA Today


USA TODAY Sports revisits some of the biggest names in Rio to see how their lives have changed over the last 12 months.

Gymnast Hernandez keeps juggling

On the rare morning she gets to sleep in, Laurie Hernandez often finds herself wondering not so much where she is but how she got there.

A year ago, the country was just getting acquainted with the bubbly 16-year-old, the youngest member of the U.S. gymnastics team. Now she’s an Olympic champion and Dancing with the Stars winner, a crossover celebrity who has made the rounds of red carpets and talk shows.

“Life has been moving so fast,” Hernandez told USA TODAY Sports. “I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. I can’t believe my dreams came true.”

Hernandez won team gold as part of the USA’s “Final Five” and added a silver on balance beam. Her smile and personality — she was nicknamed “The Human Emoji” — made her one of Rio’s breakout stars, and her life has been a blur since.

She juggled her time on DWTS with a nationwide gymnastics tour. She published her biography, hung out with some of the cast members of Law & Order: SVU, her favorite TV show, and has crisscrossed the country making appearances.

Though she hasn’t been training — “my body and my brain just really needed a break” — Hernandez says she hopes to return to the gym at the end of the summer. She also has one more year of high school to finish, and then there’s college.

There’s much to look forward to for someone who’s already accomplished so much.

“Our leotards, which seems a bit silly,” Hernandez said of her favorite memories from Rio. “We put a lot of thought into what leotards we wore at the Olympics. I don’t know why, but that’s one of the biggest things I remember. Just standing on the podium and taking everything in — including my leotard and my warm-up.”