Friday, July 30, 2021

My Weekend Crush

Simone Biles is the greatest. This is undisputed. That she withdrew from the Olympics, THE OLYMPICS, because she knew her mental health wasn’t there to compete makes her even greater. Athletes, even the greatest athletes in the world, are only human. And all humans, even the strongest in the world, are fragile. If Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast in history and one of the greatest athletes in any sport, says she can’t compete then she can’t compete and we should honor and appreciate the wisdom and concern she has shown for her own body and mind.

To those criticizing her “toughness” or her “commitment” or her “responsibilities,” I have some questions. Are you an elite gymnast who has been training since she was 6 years old with the singular goal of making it to the Olympics? No, interesting. Have you publicly discussed your long-term sexual abuse at the hands of the U.S.A. team doctor/person whose sole job was to keep you healthy that was covered up by the very organization you are now performing for at the Olympics? No, also interesting. Were you touted for years and years and years (and years and years) as the face of the Olympics for having what has been portrayed as unstoppable superhuman abilities so much so that people expect your greatness to be automatic? No, again, interesting. Are you a Black woman who is continually expected to perform at the upper echelon of your field for a culture that then casually ascribes much of your excellence to your race? No, wow, interesting.

Though, it’s not interesting — it’s pathetic. Every criticism I have read of Simone withdrawing from the team and all-around events has been pathetic — and I mean every last one, which largely and unsurprisingly are coming from a slew of mediocre straight white men.

Yeah, of course, we all have opinions about things we really don’t know much of anything about. Mouthing off is also human nature. But we should always check ourselves in criticizing those who prioritize their mental health. When an NBA player breaks a leg in a game, no one would dare scream at him to “Shake it off, be a team player!” But if mentally you know you can’t compete and are risking grave bodily harm to do so, suddenly you’re “soft.” Again, I’d laugh if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Here’s the thing, no one has an obligation to compete for an Olympic gold medal for your viewing pleasure. No one. The Olympics are, of course, a public spectacle. But at its core it’s about a group of extraordinary humans pushing themselves to lengths us normal humans for the most part could never even fathom. It’s personal, it’s their bodies. And unlike some pretty topical public health requirements that have been implemented to protect us as a society (vaccinations, masks, social distancing, et al), no one should ever tell you what you can and can’t do with your own bodies. Because, here’s the thing, if Simone doesn’t compete it doesn’t truly hurt anyone else. We just won’t get to see her excellence, which is a shame because when she is at her best it is wondrous to behold. But that’s it, we’re just disappointed. She’s the one who has to deal with the hurt of training for a moment you suddenly know you can’t perform in. We should wrap her in our support and thanks, not criticize her for denying us a show.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s those who do the least to protect humankind are the same ones who often demand the most of everyone else. Wear a mask to protect other people? But my FREEDOMMMMM to kill anyone I might infect by not wearing a simple piece of fabric on my face! Get vaccinated to end this pandemic? My body, my CHOOOOOICE to continue this misery and keep us from attaining herd immunity thereby taking all of us who are already vaccinated or cannot get vaccinated for health reasons hostage in an unending cycle of death, disability and suffering! (Will I work this infernal pandemic of stupidity into every post, even the Olympic ones because the world is all connected and YOU SEE THOSE EMPTY STANDS RIGHT?)

The other hopefully bigger lesson of this pandemic is that we all need to take care of our mental health. It is OK to not be OK and seek help. Our bodies don’t run without our minds. And we humans, as I’ve said before, are so fragile. But fragility is not a sign of personal failing, it’s a sign of our humanity. Think of the pressures you face on a daily basis — bills, relationships, jobs and generally just trying to navigate the random chaos of everyday existence — and now add pushing yourself to perform at the highest, hardest levels of a sport with the expectations of not only your team but your entire country and indeed the whole world on your shoulders. I know I couldn’t, I’d be crushed. So I have nothing but respect for the Simones and Naomis of the world who have said loud and clear that their lives matter more than their sports. Honestly, I’m continually in awe of these athletes. I still watch the Olympics, despite its many flaws and institutional failings, because of these magnificent humans who devote their lives to being the best they can be at something — which, a quick reminder, is about more than just winning medals.

Simone should be lifted up as an example of setting healthy priorities, not the opposite. Because if we’re disappointed, she must be devastated. But she did this because she knew her limits. No one should be forced to push past that point — especially not just for a shiny trinket. Depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, suicidal ideations — these are all serious medical issues. They hurt us as much as any broken leg. They can lead to death. They have led to death.

Being the Greatest of All Time means knowing when to stop. It means knowing that your physical and mental health are more important than any competition. In the end these are all just games, even the Olympic Games. Each one of these athletes has a life outside of what we see on TV, and deserves the best shot at as full and happy life possible. We all do. If by exiting Simone gave more athletes — and really any of us — permission to do just that then she won’t just be the greatest gymnast of all time. She’ll be one of the greatest humans. Happy weekend, all.

p.s. None of this, none of this, takes away from Sunisa Lee’s amazing, inspiring, julilant all-around gold medal. In stepping aside to protect her own health, Simone created more opportunities for her teammates to shine as well. And that, after all, should be the goal of any sporting competition, to create chances for people to be their best.


Helena said...

Thank you.

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Excellently said. Totally agree.

Anonymous said...

Well written. Couldn't agree more. If only the world has more like-minded people.

Carmen San Diego said...

You write so beautifully
I’m always in awe of you

Reets said...

*slow clap*đź‘Źđź‘Źđź‘Ź