The danger of the reaction to Simone Biles

I suspect that most of you are well aware of the Simone Biles situation right now, but in a nutshell, it’s this: Biles, who I think is the best gymnast in the world (gotta confess my ignorance to gymnastics here), dropped out of the Olympics, citing a variety of physical and emotional problems. As I type this, she may still perform in some events, but I’m not sure.

Let me start by stating the obvious: I have absolutely, positively zero idea of what is going on in Mrs. Biles head, aside from what she has said publicly. Also, I have no right to know anything else. Neither do you. Neither do any of us. Know what? She doesn’t owe us a damn thing. I’m not sure why anyone feels entitled to know what is happening in her head – or anyone else’s – but all humans have a right to basic dignity and worth, even the most elite athletes on the planet. If she says she isn’t in a position to compete safely, cool. Know who gets to decide that? Her, and her alone. 

Of course, it is never that simple, and because the world is a terrible place, there is no shortage of morons criticizing her. Fine, whatever. Some people are terrible, though I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the fact that most people are either supporting her or shutting the hell up. Either of those options is more than acceptable.

But, I worry about the impact of Biles’ decision to drop out. Let me be crystal clear here: I do not worry about the impact because of anything that Biles did. She bears zero responsibility for the reaction of morons to her personal decisions, and any negative ramifications are because of the people attacking her, not her own actions.

I worry because I worry about all the people who are seeing backlash and doubting themselves. I come back to this tweet:

Yep. How many people struggling will see the moronic mouth-droppings of people like the Deputy Attorney General of Texas, who called Biles a “national embarrassment“? How many little black girls will think that their mental and physical health is not worth protecting?

I want to approach this from a broader perspective because it needs to be said: Other people who are struggling with their mental health are watching the reaction to Biles. I hope that they can see the fact that the vast majority of the response – including from worldwide leaders and other Olympic athletes – is overwhelmingly supportive. But, I suspect they won’t. If you’ve been depressed, you are familiar with the cognitive bias that is the Confirmation Bias: You see things that confirm what you already think. If you already think that the world judges you, all you will see is more tweets of someone like you being judged. 

So…what should this entire issue inspire all of us to do? I can think of a few things off-hand:

  • Talk to your kids about mental health. Tell them why it matters.
  • If you’re going to discuss Simone Biles, make sure to contextualize your comments. She is a person. She deserves the same autonomy that you expect for yourself or people you care about. Put yourself in her shoes and ask how you would want the words that came out of your mouth to sound.
  • If you know people who are struggling, and you feel comfortable doing so, it may be worth approaching them about this topic with supportive words. Biles’ struggles and pains are shared by millions. They all deserve the same level of love and respect.

As always, I’d welcome your thoughts. I encourage all of you to be kind and empathetic!

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