The world watched as Simone Biles took to the Olympics Artistic Gymnastics floor in Tokyo for the team final. She is known to perform the vault at a high level of difficulty and nail her skills. But this time, the world saw her make a last minute change in the midst of the vault, which led to a rough landing. Soon after, Biles withdrew from the team competition and Team USA went on to win silver. Biles also withdrew from the individual all-around competition and most of the individual apparatus finals, but competed in the Beam and went on to win Bronze.
The pressure has been on for years… Calling her things like the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) of gymnastics. Likening her to monumental figures in sports history such as Micheal Jordan, Serena Williams, and Allyson Felix.
Athletes Carry Layers of Pressure
Simone has handled her success with such grace. All reports from the media suggest that she is a kind, giving, and ambitious human being as well as a supportive teammate. But there were so many layers of pressure on her that were wearing her down like a 100 lb weight. Can you imagine taking that everywhere with you and trying to execute to the best of your ability with that weight? That weight is even heavier as a Black woman competing on one of the most visible stages in the world. To be young, to be a woman, to be a woman of color when ALL the world is watching and a team hangs their every hope on your success. What do these layers of pressure do to one’s mental health?
Often, athletes seem to navigate it so well from the outside. However, as we’ve seen from many athletes and celebrities in the past, being famous doesn't make you immune from mental health struggles. Making a different decision could have harmed not only Simone, but the hopes of her teammates as well. This pressure and inevitable anxiety can take a huge toll on anyone’s mental health.
Biles mentioned in one article that she needed to “focus on her mindfulness.” In a sport that requires such skill and precision at a level of difficulty that is truly unmatched, mindfulness is not only an important component, it is a required one. Imagine the potential danger and harm an athlete can do to themselves and subsequently the hopes of their team mates if one is not mentally available to do what she was meant to do?
Prioritizing Mental Health is BADASS
I applaud Biles for understanding her priorities and thinking about not only her teammates, but herself. I’m admiring and feeling empowered by her decision to prioritize herself and her mental health. She is the epitome of BADASS! As Black women, we are often THRUST into positions of caretaker, being socialized to put everyone else’s needs above our own. Biles broke down this stereotype and busted out of this mold. What she did takes not only courage, but a keen sense of self-awareness that many of us strive for and struggle to find.
Aside from the immense pressure that Biles likely already feels given her caliber of skill and performance, it’s clear that the media and our world have also put this pressure on top of her. Prior to the Olympics, had anyone really heard of Sunisa Lee or Grace McCallum? They are beautiful, skillful gymnasts, but the media RARELY mentioned their abilities or the importance of their performance in the team competition. In previous Olympics, the world seemed to talk more equally about all of the competitors. And as we saw, Sunisa Lee went on to win gold in the All Around! And yet, my news alerts are not filled with this AMAZING accomplishment. Rather, there was still a focus on whether or not Simone would perform on other events.
People Overlook and Stigmatize Mental Health
When she decided to put her mental well-being first, knowing that she completely understood how important her mental availability is for her to compete, waves of criticism came. From people like Piers Morgan, a white male steeped in privilege and clearly lacking a sense of self-awareness, telling her that she had let her teammates down because she prioritized herself. Uggghhhh...this is so incredibly problematic! And a key reason why mental health is often overlooked and stigmatized. And it’s even more reason why women of color continue to hold on to this image of bold, strong, caretaker, because the world is at times RELENTLESS in its pursuit of maintaining that damaging image. Moreover, our own internalized ideals, racism, and patriarchal values have us questioning whether or not putting self first is ok. Biles BROKE all of this down with her decisions.
First of all, she prioritized her mental health. While there was no physical injury, she acknowledged there was a mental one. She wanted to heal rather than continuing on and harming herself further. Is our world still so regressed that we shame individuals for acknowledging and prioritizing mental wellness? Is the expectation that the G.O.A.T’s of this world must exemplify perfection to their own detriment?
That can’t be the model we are setting for individuals who look up to and admire these G.O.A.T’s. Especially the young Black girls who are traditionally socialized to be caretaker and put everyone else before themselves. I’m so proud of Biles for setting a different standard!
Mental Health is Real
Mental health is real y’all! The notion that we must push through our mental pains to make the world or someone else happy is a concept rooted in white patriarchy and supremacy.
To disrupt these false myths, we need women like Biles, especially Black women, to continue to be vocal and confident in their decisions to prioritize oneself. Moreover, we need folks like Piers Morgan to do their own work and mindfulness related to their own bias and privileged ideals.
Thank you, Biles, for bringing attention to how important and how real mental health is!