Americans and gymnastics fans alike were shocked this Tuesday at the news that Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles opted to withdraw from an event after failing to land a challenging vault. Biles’ announcement came as a shock because many saw her as the American face of the Tokyo Olympics; however, while some were disappointed, others applauded Biles for her courage to stand up for herself and put her health above the sport.
Of course, many of those who took the opportunity to immediately criticize Biles were conservatives. After a conservative media publisher posted a video of Kerri Strug’s performance from 25 years ago, during which the legendary gymnast battled through a serious ankle injury to help the U.S. women’s team, other conservatives took to criticizing Biles in a less subtle way. “Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Aaron Reitz, Texas’ deputy attorney general, wrote in a tweet that included the Strug video.
Other Texans quickly joined Reitz, including a conservative radio host who wrote a column on how Biles’ decision “reveals our softened world,” the Houston Chronicle reported. But of course, not every conservative or Texan agreed with this bigotry. Reitz’s boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, called out Reitz’s inappropriate behavior indirectly by noting that he learned “one of our employees” made a “very inappropriate and insensitive tweet.” He added that the matter would be “handled internally.”
Paxton also took the opportunity to show his support for Biles, stating,: “I know Simone Biles—she is a fantastic athlete but an even better person. Mental health is far more important than any athletic competition and I fully support her decision.”
Within six hours of Paxton’s comment, Reitz not only deleted his original tweet but issued an apology on Twitter. “I owe [Simone Biles] an apology. A big one,” he said. “I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through. Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time. I apologize to her, and wish her well.”
Of course, his apology didn’t come without an attempt to justify his actions, claiming he said what he said out of “frustration and disappointment”—an excuse that cannot be accepted.
Biles, who is also from Texas, is the most decorated gymnast of all time, with 31 Olympic and world championship medals, according to The Washington Post. In explaining why she chose to withdraw from this week’s team final and not participate in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, Biles cited the pressure to perform, dealing with pandemic life, and a sudden onset of the “twisties.” In gymnastics, the “twisties” are a phenomenon during which athletes suddenly lose the sense of where their body is in space. It can cause not only an Olympic loss but severe bodily injury.
But despite the hate, Biles noted that she has received mostly support after her decision to focus on her mental and physical health.
Both other athletes and sponsors supported Biles’ decision and applauded her for her courage in prioritizing her health and speaking up about it.
“We are past the time when athletes like Simone are valued simply for their athletic prowess,” Jim Andrews, founder of A-Mark Partnership Strategies, said, according to ESPN. “She has earned a place in gymnastics history, and has proven herself to be an amazing spokesperson and influencer who has much to offer brands even without competing and eventually in retirement.”
Strug, whose performance video was used to criticize Biles, also spoke up in support of Biles.
“Sending love to you @Simone_Biles,” Strug wrote, adding emoji of a heart and a goat to signify “GOAT,” or “greatest of all time.” “Team UNITED States of America.” During the 1996 Olympics, Strug competed injured. She hurt her ankle so badly she had to be carried to the medal ceremony.
According to The Washington Post, after a second attempt at the vault Strug collapsed in pain, but crowds cheered for her. It seems instead of caring for her health, all the crowd cared about was the fact that she finished, which is an unfortunately common theme in many Olympic sports.
Biles’ decision to focus on herself and not a win sets a groundbreaking example for other athletes to come. As former athletes shared, not everyone has felt that they can speak up for themselves while partaking in these events. Biles’ decision sets a precedent.
“@Simone_Biles decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health—‘a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian,” former Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu said Wednesday in a series of tweets that noted her own struggles as the youngest member of the 1996 team. “She made the right decision for the team & herself.”
While it is definitely saddening to hear that Biles was subject to so much pressure that she had to make this decision, I have more respect for her for being able to stand up for herself on the world’s biggest stage. To be able to say you need time to rest and heal is not easy. Instead of criticizing Biles for “letting her country down,” we must applaud her for her courage. Let’s not forget that Biles chose not to retire because she felt being on the Olympic team as the only survivor of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse would put more pressure on USA Gymnastics to actually do something to make the sport safer for young women.
Biles and other athletes owe us nothing. They should not have to sacrifice themselves for the price of a victory. Thank you Simone Biles, for crushing the stigma of mental health and for being a role model others can look up to.
That itself deserves a gold.
[Editor’s note: Headline was corrected from .lieutenant governor’ to ‘deputy attorney general’]
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.