Yesterday, I woke up to hear that the Olympic gold medal winning athlete Simone Biles – the most decorated and greatest gymnast of all time, pulled out of the Tokyo olympics, citing mental health reasons. Instantly, she was criticised by people for not being a team player, for going to the Olympics in the first place, for daring to reveal that she is human and she struggled.
Gymnastics can be a dangerous sport if you are not in the right mindset and after not feeling her best, Biles withdrew from the competition. She still stood in the glare of the world media to support her team though!
We live in a toxic society that still doesn’t understand the mind- or anything they cannot see. Whether like Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from Wimbledon, its stress, anxiety, depression or burn out/exhaustion, the reasons are valid. Just like sportspeople pull out for physical injuries, mental injuries are just as justifiable and important. The brain is an organ and it can break too.
If we look at Simone Biles and her background, which I didn’t know until looking into it, she was sexually abused by her gymnastics coach as a child. She also comes from a difficult upbringing. She will therefore be carrying trauma in her life which could get triggered by the pressures that come with the Olympics and being the most visible and famous gymnast in USA history. She is only 24.
There is a certain columnist/journalist in the UK who writes and attacks women in the public eye with mental health issues constantly. it doesn’t matter if they could be depressed, anxious, burnt out or suicidal. It doesn’t matter if they have disclosed they have been suicidal in one case. He is paid to pull these women to pieces in public and accuses anyone not agreeing or being ‘woke’ or a snowflake’.
This infuriates me that someone with so much media influence spends their time attacking people who are vulnerable and who should have support.
I hope that in the not too distant future we won’t have to have these discussions about mental resilience, about how people are quitting on their team for being unwell, about how its an ‘excuse’. This is usually said by people that have no understanding of mental health issues and who do not understand the pressures of performing in public and being successful at that level.
With Naomi Osaka, she was fined for not attending a press conference and breaching her contract. If that isn’t discrimination, I don’t know what is.
This has to change. its 2021, not 1821!
I was heartened to see so much support for these women on social media and so I hope it is a small minority of views. But sport, a typically macho arena, needs to wake up, needs to support people and stop treating athletes in this way. This also echoes the workplace in general.
Solidarity with Simone, Naomi, Meghan and anyone else struggling. They are inspirations to people around the world with mental illness and together they will make a change.