Story at a glance

  • Gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics due to a medical issue ahead of the finals.
  • The athlete, who is a survivor of sexual abuse, revealed that her mental health was suffering.
  • While she received support from many fellow athletes and fans online, some — including members of the conservative media — criticized her.

Gymnast Simone Biles may not be taking home a gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics, but what she found may be even better.

"The outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before," she wrote on social media.

 

"I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do. I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board, and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine," former Olympic champion Michael Phelps, who has publicly spoken about his own depression, told NBC shortly after Biles’ withdrawal


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But not everybody seemed to hear that message. As a Black woman and survivor of sexual abuse, Biles is no stranger to vitriol — especially racism and sexism — on the Internet. After her medical withdrawal, critics were quick to dismiss her health and focus instead on the sport. 

"For years, women have said, all we want to be judged as is equal," said Fox Sports radio host Doug Gottlieb on his show. "Generally, we don’t have any sort of critique for our female sports teams. On one hand you want to be viewed, treated, and compensated the same as the men, but on the other hand whatever you do, just don’t be critical of us."

Phelps, however, told NBC that mental health affected everyone — even him

"I think the biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help sometimes too," said the male athlete. "I can say personally, it was something that [was] very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help."

Conservative pundit Charlie Kirk went even further, calling Biles "weak," "immature," a "selfish sociopath" and a "shame to the country."


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But supporters, including basketball player Jayson Tatum, were quick to Biles' defense online.

 

Actor and athlete Brandon Marino shared a note from a friend and gymnastics instructor who defended Biles' mental strength, noting what she had already overcome, and also explained the particular danger of competing in gymnastics without a clear mind.

 

"For non-gymnasts, the fact that she balked mid-air and accidentally did a 1.5 on her first vault instead of a 2.5 is a big deal. It's terrifying. She could have been severely injured getting lost in the air like that. The fact she somehow landed on her feet shows her experience and is incredible," they wrote in a post that Biles reshared online. "The margin for error on a skill like that is insanely low. A very small wrong move and career-ending or, even worse, life-threatening injuries can occur.”


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Published on Jul 29, 2021