by Julian Spivey
I woke up on Tuesday, July 27 to a text from my wife that read: “Something crazy happened in [the] Olympics.” I hadn’t seen anything as I was waking up a bit earlier than I normally would before going to work to watch the gold medal softball game between Japan and the United States and I didn’t want that game to be spoiled by getting online or on social media.
I later found out that the “crazy,” a word my wife later apologized for in text as a “poor choice of word” when she found out the true reasoning for the surprise was that Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast – I’m comfortable saying male or female – of all-time decided to withdraw from the women’s team final event at the 2020 Tokyo games for what she cited as “mental health” after the event.
Biles is the second high profile athlete to withdraw from a major sporting event in 2021 citing their mental health. Tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was representing her home country of Japan in these Olympics and was eliminated in the third round of the tournament, withdrew from the French Open earlier this year to focus on her mental health. She then opted not to compete in another tennis major tournament Wimbledon for the same reason.
Anytime the topic of mental health is approached it’s a sensitive topic. If you don’t side with the person (athlete in this case) you’re going to seem like a jerk. That was the situation I immediately found myself in on Tuesday when I felt like Biles let her teammates down. I don’t like feeling like a jerk, but all these hours later I haven’t really changed my opinion on it and it’s something that’s been on my mind all day.
We all have mental health issues from time to time. If anyone claims they have never had a moment of poor mental health in their life they’re lying to you. I don’t have a problem admitting to you that I take medication daily to help keep my mental health in check. So, I can feel for Biles situation, but I also feel badly for her teammates. I really do feel like she quit on them. If she had stated before the Olympic games that she couldn’t go through with the competition for mental health reasoning it would’ve been different for me because the team would’ve had time to prepare, and this wouldn’t have been thrown upon them in the middle of an event. If she had pushed through the team event – I’d have to think Biles even at her absolute worse is still a better gymnast than most – and then backed out of the individual events I wouldn’t have felt like she let anybody down. I never felt like Osaka was letting anybody down because she didn’t owe anything to anyone. Tennis is an individual sport though.
Biles doesn’t owe the Olympics anything. She doesn’t owe the fans watching from home anything. She doesn’t even owe the United States anything. She’s given so much of herself to her sport and in turn the sport hasn’t truly treated her kindly (that’s for another discussion though, but if you don’t know what I mean read up on both the sport changing scoring based on her greatness and then the disgusting abuse from team doctor Larry Nasser). Let’s just say you can understand why her mental health could use a break.
But I do feel like she owed her teammates Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum a finish to the event. There’s a great chance her teammates back Biles 100 percent and even if they don’t, they’re unlikely to announce any displeasure anytime soon.
It’s the team aspect that bugs me about it. You just don’t quit on your teammates in sports. Admittedly this is an old school sports view. It’s one today that I’ve been told I’m wrong about. It’s one I might change my opinion on in the future – I’ve done that from time to time when it comes to both sports and life.
Was Biles brave to back out of the team event? Hell yes, she was brave to do it! Because by backing out you have people like me taking issue with it. It’s never easy to do anything that could be considered controversial.
There’s conversation tonight about whether Biles might still compete in the individual competition on Thursday. That would truly only make backing out of the team event look worse. If her mental health needs work, it’s likely going to take more than 48 hours to get it right. Osaka took nearly two months off before returning to tennis. Now I’m fully aware nobody’s mental health is the same, but if Biles needs time take the time.