We didn’t write anything about Simone Biles and her decision to withdraw from those Olympic events because it feels like the world’s largest quicksand pit. You could put together the most reasonable column of all time, complete with nuance and fairness, and it would still devolve into a Facebook argument over whether or not she’s “weak” and “quit” on herself and her teammates.
So let’s toss it to former Eagles receiver Jason Avant, who called the decision “soft” while giving a pretty honest take on the matter:
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Avant, in part:
“There’s anxiety, there’s worry, there’s nervousness, for you, there’s the pressure of being perfect. But you owe it to your family. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to every athlete everywhere to try, to give your hardest. Whether you win or whether you lose, the victory is in not giving up. That’s the only thing that makes the athlete different. Yes we feel the pressure, yes we feel the anxiety, yes we feel the fear, but we press through and we fight despite the feelings trying to grip us. Having resolve in the midst of adversity and fighting through, is what makes the athlete special. And you gave away the most precious give the athlete has, which is fighting through adversity. You took the path of least resistance and now you’re being praised by your peers.”
I see a lot of this going around, and it’s hard to disagree, because the mental side of competition has been part of an athlete’s life since the beginning of time. Magic Johnson had to handle it. Tom Brady. Wayne Gretzky. Mike Schmidt. It just comes with the territory. The greatest athletes of all time are mentally prepared for whatever is thrown at them, and that’s what gives them their elite status. It’s about fighting through adversity, as Avant says. Everybody who competes in anything at any level has to navigate some level of anxiety or fear.
But I see the other side of it, too. Simone Biles is her own woman. She has to do what she thinks is best for her. She’s a multi-Olympic gold medal winner already and one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, so it’s not like she has anything to prove. I think mental health is a little bit more of a struggle in an internet world, where random trolls can say the dumbest shit ever and you are constantly bombarded with nonsense from nobodies. That’s the biggest difference between ‘then’ and ‘now,’ and adds a layer of pressure that older athletes didn’t have to deal with.
And Biles is somebody who dedicated her life to this sport, which, in gymnastics, involves a lot of these women (and men) giving up their childhood and being molded into perfect athletes from seven or eight years old, up through their teenage years and into their early 20s. Nothing about it is easy. It’s brutal.
This story of is the perfect example of “more than one thing can be true.” You can disagree with her decision while still throwing 100% support behind her. Carry on.