Sympathy for Simone Biles

See also: Simone Biles: Oh, boo hoo

Simone Biles, the main reason anyone wants to watch the Olympics, given her thrilling artistic gymnastics, has pulled out of the U.S. team events and, since then, even the individual all-around event, citing her mental health:

TOKYO — A distraught Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic team final on Tuesday, leaving in the middle of the competition after struggling to land a vault. 

"After the performance that I did, I didn't want to go into any of the other events second guessing myself, so I thought it was better if I took a step back and let these girls go out there and do the job and they did just that," Biles said.

She said she has been trying to cope with the stress of competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

"I was still struggling with some things," Biles said of competing Tuesday night.

"Therapy has helped a lot as well as medicine. That's all been going really well. Whenever you get in high-stress situations, you kind of freak out and don't know really know how to handle all of those emotions especially at the Olympic Games."

Certain people on the right, who shall be nameless, criticized her as a "quitter."  Others said she was too self-focused, and still others said she was a wokester or snowflake.

But that's not fair to her, given that she wanted to win.  Her decision was practical and quite selfless in that in pulling out, she gave the rest of her team the placement to win the silver — had she stayed in, they wouldn't have placed at all, because her mistakes would have dragged the whole team down.  Also, she was right to pull out for safety reasons, given that she engages in a dangerous, high-speed sport, and she was making some scary mistakes.  And she certainly didn't profit from it — her pullout probably led to lost commercial endorsements.

It's clear that she was upset with herself that she was making these mistakes, because she obviously couldn't control them — you could see that in her facial expressions.  These were no McKayla Maroney pouts over silver; these were faces of anguish.  And yes, in sports, particularly top athletic events, mental focus is as important as physical skill.  She lost the former, and it began to destroy the latter.  She was right to get out.

As one of her trainers, Robert Andrews, speaking on CNN, accurately observed, her mind wasn't together with her body, which is why she was making mistakes.  Things were bothering her, and she was overwhelmed.  This trainer, Robert Andrews, cited five factors — the moving of the 2020 Olympics to 2021 over COVID, which is hard on athletes who have trained for 2020 and have to wind down only to restart up again; the Larry Nasser incident, where a filthy, pervy physician sexually assaulted more than a hundred young gymnasts, including Biles, has been in the news, reminding her that the people who were supposed to be protecting her were protecting a pervert instead; the Black Lives Matter wokesterism, which affected her because she is Black; and the big buildup for the Olympics, where her leotards sported the GOAT emblem, which was a very bad idea — something like that should be worn only in retirement.  Lastly, he said the Olympic event lacked the crowds as well as her family for support, which had to be hard on her.  Everything he said was spot-on, and his short interview is worth listening to.

One last thing he didn't bring up was that at age 24, Biles is considered "an old woman" in the gymnastics world, where lithe young teenagers dominate.  That had to have added pressure, too.

What likely annoyed the naysayers is that Biles was saying it was about "mental health," which is a problem of wording — it's much too broad a category and includes people with neuroses, people who are "triggered," people with marijuana-induced schizophrenia, and a whole host of lunacies.  It also includes Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open based on her inability to handle media pressure and play tennis at the same time, also saying it was a matter of mental health.  While that seems reasonably legitimate, the response afterward was problematic — she was hailed and feted in the aftermath for her "courage" for pulling out, and it became about victimhood at that point, with victims as heroes.  It's not very different from 1970s first lady Betty Ford being hailed in the press for her candor over her alcoholism and rehab.  As it gets to that, it isn't really about athletic excellence anymore, is it?  Apparently, some on the right thought Biles was trying to pull a Naomi and get good press.  And the people who stand to profit from supposedly bad mental health, such as this therapist, certainly got their licks in: 

"It's very validating, you know," Richardson said. "It's okay not to be okay."

Actually, it isn't.  That's why such therapists exist, is it not?  Or are they happy with their reputation they have of never doing much to fix anyone's mental health, so let the conditions go on and on, so long as the insurance checks keep coming?

In reality, it was a sad incident, and thankfully, Biles arrested it before it could create more problems.  Whatever is bothering her now is not going to be made better with a severe physical injury, so it was better that she pulled out.

She can be respected for that, and offered sympathy, given that the pressure on her was just too much.  But made a "mental health" hero instead of a mega-gold Olympian?  For having a loss of nerve?  No, that's not fair to her, either, given all that she has done.

Image: NBC Sports video, via shareable YouTube.

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