As the Tokyo Olympics came around, all Americans were extremely excited for a few individual performances, and the athletes we thought had the best chances of getting gold. After the 2016 Olympics in Rio, it was exciting to think about watching athletes like Simone Biles, Katie Ladecky, Caleb Dressel, Sha’Carri Richardson, and many others.
However, in the team final and women’s individual all-around for gymnastics, Biles shocked the world. It looked as if she was exiting stage left with an injury, clearly emotional. Immediately, it was tough not to feel for Biles, who has been training for that moment since she left Rio with medals draped all over here.
But it was her reasoning that became more shocking for the entire world. Biles told the world that she stepped back from the competition because of her mental health.
“I just never felt like this going into a competition before,” Biles said at a press conference Tuesday following the team final. “I tried to go out here and have fun, and warm up in the back went a little bit better, but once I came out here I was like, ‘No, mental is not there.’”
It was one of the first times in major sports that an athlete has been that open about mental health. This wasn’t like Kevin Love talking about his struggles openly and giving us an insight about what goes on in his mind during an NBA season. This was much more raw, happening in front of our eyes. For the first time, an athlete was truly vulnerable and showing it all on the biggest stage of her career.
“I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured,” she said. “So I thought it was best if these girls took over and did the rest of the job, which they absolutely did.”
As there are in all sports, heaps of both criticism and compliments were showered on Biles in the coming days. From one side, she was being called a “quitter” and a “traitor” to her country. On the other side, she was being applauded for her bravery and courage. Just as most things are in this country today, minds were split right down the middle, and the battlefield was social media. Both sides wanted to make sure that they were heard.
Yelling, screaming about someone they do not know or have the remotest idea about what she may be going through. I am here to say that there was no “quitting” in what Simone Biles did. In an act of selflessness, she made the aware decision that her performance would have been detrimental to her team based on where she was mentally. Instead of going out and competing and costing the US points, Biles sidelined herself.
You can call that what you may, but I call it courage. It is not often that we can take an honest look at ourselves and decide that will hurt us. At that moment, Biles had to make what must have been the most unpopular decision in her mind. She was risking her pride, her endorsements, her status, her livelihood, her life, everything she’s worked for, the countless years that she has put into her craft, and instead, she stepped aside for the betterment of her team.
In any organized sport in the United States, you wouldn’t see that. This is the example I see over and over again. Would Michael Jordan pull himself out of the Finals? Or would Tom Brady remove himself from a Super Bowl? Maybe not. But athletes in sports like that have others who are sitting right behind them, ready to take their place. If one of them leaves the field, they risk never going back out again. But as Biles left the mat, she did it knowing that no one could take her place but that she would be the one to take her team down.
Biles has defended herself, even though she doesn’t need to. She is the only returning member of the US Gymnastics team that former head trainer Larry Nassar victimized. She has gone and competed and won. She has shown the world that she is the greatest, and there is no competing with her. But she still sat in front of her millions of followers and defended herself.
“I didn’t have a bad performance and quit,” Biles wrote Friday in a Q&A with IG users. “I’ve had plenty of bad performances throughout my career and finished the competition. I simply got so lost my safety was at risk, as well as a team medal.
At the end of the day, Biles is an athlete competing in a dangerous sport. There are injuries that occur that can have serious lingering effects, and she recognized that as well.
“I don’t think you realize how dangerous this is on hard/competition surface. Nor do I have to explain why I put health first. Physical health is mental health,” she wrote.
If you think Simone Biles quit, then it might be time for you to look in the mirror. Biles didn’t quit, but rather she sacrificed her biggest moment for her team’s success. There is a difference between quitting and making the ultimate selfless sacrifice, regardless of what impact it may or may not have on a person, and Biles certainly did not do the first.