We have recently been privileged to witness the rise of athletes putting their mental health first. From Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open due to issues related to anxiety and depression, to Liz Cambage deciding to sit out the Tokyo Olympics, it has been amazing to see these women bravely taking a stand.
American gymnast Simone Biles is the latest athlete to follow suit, deciding to withdraw from the 2020 Olympics also citing mental health concerns.
In her announcement, Biles said she had been doing her best to fight her demons, but feared she was losing her way.
“I felt like I was still doing it for other people… so that just, like, hurts my heart, because doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people,” she said.
“I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardise my health and wellbeing. It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head,” she continued, explaining that she had sought therapy and had been taking medication prior to the games.
“At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” she said.
While most people applauded the courage Biles demonstrated — and let’s be clear, it takes an extraordinary amount of bravery to step back from something you have not only dedicated your entire life to but are considered top of your field in — others rained vile criticism on the star athlete.
As per usual, white men were the loudest detractors.
One of the more repugnant contributors to the conversation (if you can call slinging abuse at a woman for putting herself first a conversation), was Charlie Kirk — a right-wing talk show host who used his platform to whine about Russia “smirking at the US”, which he was not okay with.
Calling Biles a “selfish sociopath”, Kirk said, “You know who has the gold medal? Russia. I have to go look at these 4’11 Olympians, chewing on their gold medals and smirking at the Americans. I’m not okay with that”.
And here we thought Republicans loved Russia (and selfish sociopaths, come to think of it).
“We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles,” he continued.
Hold up there, Chuck. Weak? This is a woman who has not only ignored injuries so as not to let her country down, but has also shown incredible courage in coming forward to detail the trauma of being abused by predator and former team doctor Larry Nassar. This is a woman who can perform movements and physical feats with her body that would make you cry harder than if you caught your daughter wearing a Planned Parenthood T-shirt.
There is nothing weak about this woman. Nothing.
Perhaps the most hilarious part of Kirk’s pathetic little rant was when he said, “Simone Biles just showed the rest of the nation that when things get tough, you shatter into a million pieces.” This coming from a guy who voted for someone who is still insisting the election was rigged and that is why he didn’t win it.
Meanwhile, Political Editor John Davidson had the absolute audacity to suggest that Biles’ mental health issues were fabricated.
“We as a society have begun conflating mental health and mental toughness, or grit. Public figures are often rewarded for taking care of their ‘mental health’, even in the absence of any kind of mental illness,” he said.
“Biles doesn’t suffer from a specific mental illness, at least not that we know of or that’s ever manifested itself before.”
Ummm…WRONG. Biles has been open with her struggles with anxiety and depression in her documentary, Simone vs Herself, in which she detailed the effects of suffering abuse at the hands of Nassar.
“I remember telling my mum and my agent that I slept all the time, and it’s basically because sleeping was better than offing myself,” she says.
“I was super depressed, and I didn’t want to leave my room and I didn’t want to go anywhere, and I kind of just shut everybody out.”
Apparently though, being sexually abused by someone you trust and then having to go on the world’s stage and relay your experience in detail while trying to advocate for other victims and maintain a rigorous training schedule so you can compete for your country, isn’t deemed enough of a reason by Davidson to be feeling the need for some mental health R&R.
“What she experienced wasn’t that, it was something more common among professional athletes: she got psyched out. She wasn’t mentally tough when she needed to be,” this sorry excuse for a human said.
“Instead of being ashamed of that, or apologising to her teammates and her countrymen, Biles seemed to revel in taking care of her ‘mental health’, whatever that means.”
It is just common sense that we should celebrate people taking care of their mental health — whether they are famous athletes or not — so I will not repeat the obvious, although I do, once again, want to praise Biles not only for her courage in withdrawing but opening the floor to further conversations around an important topic.
What is not common sense, however, are these white men weighing in YET AGAIN, on an issue that has literally nothing to do with them. This topic could not have less to do with them than a fundraiser for climate change or sensible gun legislation.
Yes, I am aware that it has not just been white guys making their point, but they are the subject of mine.
As others have very cleverly pointed out, these types of men who moan about Biles and Osaka being “weak” and “a disappointment to their country” are the same people who gripe about wearing a mask to protect their countrymen from the pandemic and the very same who fall to pieces at the idea of firearms being properly regulated so that fewer American citizens might die.
They are also the same ones who bark the loudest about abortion laws, safe in the knowledge they will never have to seek one. The mantra “my body, my choice” may have originated thanks to the pro-choice movement, but it seems very applicable here too.
What a privilege it is to cite mental health issues as simply “being weak” — for surely these are only words that would be used by someone who has never endured the crushing weight of depression or the harrowing isolation of anxiety.
I also don’t think I need to point out the irony of these men calling progressive and liberal people “snowflakes” in one breath while whining about their country not winning a prize in the other.
Here’s an idea then: if winning is so important to these men, and women who exhibit autonomy over their mental health lack the “toughness” to get the job done, why don’t they step up to the plate and see if they have what it takes? While they’re at it, why don’t they figure out a way to carry a child to term and deliver them safely seeing as abortions are allegedly bad and even female Olympians are apparently “weak”.
What’s that? Complete silence from these guys?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.