I have been following opinions about Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the competition to focus on her mental health.
You’ve got one camp, who is praising her as a “Mental Health Hero,” claiming that her withdrawal from the Olympics is her greatest accomplishment yet. Everyone from Michael Phelps to Justin Bieber has voiced their support for Biles, relating to that degree of rarely experienced global pressure.
Then, of course, you have the other camp, claiming that Biles “abandoned” her team in the moment of truth. That she knew what she was getting herself into, and it was irresponsible and inconsiderate to occupy one of only four highly coveted spots on the Olympic Gymnastics team, only to relinquish her responsibility to follow through on her commitment to her team, and her country.
And if you’re looking for me to slam my gavel one way or the other, you’re just not going to get that from me. Because here’s the thing I am exceptionally unqualified to do so.
The thing about mental health is that no one can know what is going on, inside. Especially from the perspective of fan-to-cultural icons, we know only what is presented to us from a highly regulated media machine. But we just don’t know. Was it related to her sexual assault from her former coach? Was it another mental health issue? Was it simply related to the fact that the entire country had made her a diet status? Or, as some critics question, did she just choke?
I mean, Simone Biles was the face of the Tokyo Olympics. She was shouldering America’s hope, and after the year they’ve had, they all needed some hope.
And she was expected to win. Not just once but win it all. A four-time Olympic champion, she walked into Tokyo being called the “Greatest Gymnast of All Time,” attempting and executing stunts and skills that had never been done. She was BET’s Sportswoman of the Year in 2020 and is nominated for Best Female Athlete at the upcoming 2021 ESPY’s. She’s got sponsorships and brand deals worth millions. Biles was the “It Girl.” The “Sure Bet.” And she walked into that arena alone, by the way without her parents or anyone to support her, via the new COVID rules and was expected to dominate the competition by a long shot.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never faced that type of pressure, regardless of how you feel about the outcome of it all, one thing that is glaringly obvious to me, is how willing society is to elevate these athletes or celebrities or movie stars to living idols. We’re making them gods, and tracking and watching and worshipping their every move through social media, through the news, through tabloids. It’s not good. It’s not good at all. We put them on cereal boxes, we buy products they tell us to purchase, they speak out on social issues and influence the viewpoints and beliefs of younger generations.
We’re worshipping at their altar, which is a dangerous thing indeed. Just like everyone else we’ve been placed at deity status.
Simone Biles, Justin Bieber, Lebron James, Adele…we have such rabid adoration for these idols because we’re in desperate need of heroes. We’re in dire need of someone or something to root for. We need good in the world. We need someone to place our hope in, especially living in the political and social tinderbox we find ourselves in.
We’re hungry for an example of someone who will rise above the odds, defeat the enemy, and save our day.
So, it’s no wonder, that when our heroine of the day fails to do so, that people can’t help but talk, talk, talk and run their mouths in all directions