Simone Biles And The Promotion Of Mental Health

Simone+Biles+And+The+Promotion+Of+Mental+Health

Ian MacDonald, Podcast Editor

Simone Biles has joined the likes of former Olympian Michael Phelps in a quest to help others with mental health issues. The Summer Olympics host many games; however, none are as beloved as gymnastics. When someone of Simone Biles’s stature steps away from the world stage after training for years, some begin to question her professionalism as an athlete.

Following a longer than usual five-year period of waiting for the next summer Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles faced mental health issues along with the “twisties,” a common condition wherein gymnasts get disoriented mid-air. Sitting out four events was what Biles believed was best for herself and for her team. Despite pulling herself from these team competitions, she would go on to compete in the Balance Beam Final and receive a bronze medal the following week. Biles received a mixed reaction about her decision; however, many fans showered her with support. Biles’ decision resulted in global conversations about mental health awareness and mental health in athletics specifically, which was impactful. 

Biles’ decision to withdraw from competition challenged the definition of what it means to be an Olympic athlete. Athletes in the gymnastics world not only have to be near perfect at their craft, but also at their presentation. Gymnasts make it look easy and the fans don’t see the behind-the-scenes grit and sacrifice. When Biles withdrew, in many ways Americans could feel for her on an emotional level. However, some focused more on Biles’ weaknesses and her lack of consistent perfection as a gymnast. To this point, some say “greatness is not synonymous with perfection.” Greatness is usually defined in the context of identifying a single person as the greatest of all time. Even in team sports, however, the most consistently great player with the best supporting cast/team has an advantage. Gymnastics is unlike many other sports because not only is perfection asked of athletes, but the sport is also completely dependent on the individual. The Olympic gymnasts embody near perfection and greatness as a result of their skill. Yet greatness can be defined as more than perfect skill, it can also embody the qualities of self-respect displayed by Biles as she protected her body and her mind.

Simone  Biles displayed qualities of self-respect, yet they produced controversy. The implication that athletes do not exhibit character nor integrity in competitions is false. In fact, this is one of the main reasons many parents enroll their children into sports programs. Bile’s competitive character and integrity were shown through her actions. A world-class athlete made the decision to put her team first and still cheer on from the sidelines, which is a great example of how sports can change a person and showcase their growth. Every day, athletes around the world face mental health challenges, and having the wherewithal to be the best teammate and friend possible is just as important as winning a game or being the best player.

Like our Olympic team, part of American culture is defined by our community agreement of what success is. America’s belief system is defined by hard work and the opportunity to be better. Part of that success is defined by accomplishments, how much people earn, what car they drive, or what title they hold, with little attention paid to a person’s internal well-being. American sports can be considered a subset of the country’s culture where, again, one is defined by their accomplishments. Super Bowl players are considered heroes; crowds cheer for athletes playing through difficult injuries and celebrate their success. Simone Biles challenged the belief that athletic success is the only result worth celebrating. By choosing not to compete she wasn’t weaker, she simply took a different perspective on success. In a way, she was able to highlight a misconception that people are defined by the car they drive. Perhaps people are defined by a true sense of self, and an ability to take care of themselves from the inside out. Perhaps Biles’ ability to put the needs of her mind and body before ‘accomplishments’ was her best display of success, and her ability to do so allowed her to go on to win a bronze medal. 

Coinciding with her determination to put her strongest foot forward, Simone Biles testified about an experience with abuse. She made statements about how the same organizations that were meant to support her and Team USA’s successes, let them down. Once again her resilience shone through. She called out the organizations that didn’t protect her in order to protect future athletes from the same abuse. This brings back questions such as “What is greatness? What is success?” When watching Bile’s testimony, one is reminded that a bronze medal for her athleticism is a part of Biles’ story, but perhaps a comparatively small part of her massive impact on American sports and culture. Biles, a world champion and Olympic medal winner, has once again exemplified that she not only is able to stand up for herself, but can support her current and future teammates.

Biles recently “became the latest prominent Olympian to partner with a mental health app.” She feared backlash when she opted to take care of herself but instead received an “outpouring of support.” She says she wouldn’t do anything different if given the opportunity and stated, “everything happens for a reason.” Once again, Biles is showcasing her excellence by facilitating wellness for all. While Biles has been a proponent of change in systems that are harmful, she has also been able to display the authentic meaning of a strong individual and a true teammate.

Bile’s Olympic return to competition on the balance beam during the Olympic games showed “resilience and determination.” Biles not only faced human challenges relatable to all people on some level, but she also showed exemplary strength in working through them. In the end, “Biles had been heartened by the support of her fans,” which helped her grow as a person. She showed a world of fans and teammates that taking care of oneself does not mean you are weak. She showed a world of athletes that taking care of your team sometimes means stepping out of the spotlight and letting them shine. And she showed herself that factoring her needs into the equation is often what is best.