Simone Biles Doesn’t Owe You Anything

The Sentinelese are an uncontacted tribe living on North Sentinal Island in the Indian Ocean. They vigorously reject all contact with outsiders and are the most isolated tribe in the world, attacking anyone who comes near.

But even they know what happened at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday.

In a nutshell, the greatest female gymnast of all time pulled out of competition because she didn’t think it was safe for her to compete. Many people – including a number of elite athletes – praised her for her honesty and courage – and who better than Michael Phelps to opine about what it’s like to be the “It Athlete” going into the Olympic Games. Phelps has been candid about his mental health struggles during his competitive career, and is so passionate about this issue, he created a foundation which, as one of its primary goals, encourages people to confront their own mental health issues and work towards greater wellness. What a dick.

But there’s always gotta be a turd in the punch bowl, and in this case, there were more than a few privileged white men who couldn’t help but to pile on. Piers Morgan, that bloviating bag of swamp gas, called Simone a “snowflake” who “did badly” and is not a “strong role model.” Piers even managed a few crocodile tears for Biles’ sponsors “who’ve paid huge sums of money to support [her].” I mean, if there’s anyone we should be feeling sorry for, it’s the billion dollar corporations who for years have been making money off of Biles’ name and likeness and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. Unlike Piers, many of those sponsors – Visa, Athleta, and United, to name a few – don’t spend their life as though they had gerbils nibbling on their buttholes, and have issued statements of support for Biles.

Then there was Charlie Kirk, who I had never even heard of until today, but who apparently has an ultra right-wing podcast for those in search of Black people to hate for no reason. Charlie was slated to go to my Dad’s alma mater – West Point – until “a far less-qualified candidate of a different gender and a different persuasion” stole his spot. Fuck, man! Charlie also believes the Surfside Condominium collapse was an act of terrorism and that social distancing is the result of a “Democratic war on Christianity.” Anyway, Charlie thinks Simone is “immature” and a “shame to her country.” In fact, she’s an example that America is “raising a generation of weak people.” Charlie also advised Simone, “don’t show up. If you’re not ready for the big time, we’ve got thousands of young female gymnasts that would love to take the place.”

Yet another idiot – deputy attorney General Aaron Reitz from Biles’ home state of Texas – also weighed in, lauding Kerri Strug for continuing to compete in vault at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics “despite a severely injured ankle” (because her coach told her to), calling her a “great one” and contrasting her with “our selfish, childish, national embarrassment, Simone Biles.”

And who better to join this troika of clueless cat licking butt farters than Ben Shapiro, who wants to make sure no one applauds Simone (or Naomi Osaka, for that matter) for prioritizing their mental health over sport. According to Ben, it’s a gender thing: “We would never apply this standard to any male athlete of any kind. If Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first half of the Super Bowl and said…I need my backup to take over, we’d all be like ‘wow that’s a choke.’” No, Ben, we’d say, “God, I fucking HATE Tom Brady!” Which is what normal people say whenever his name is mentioned. Shapiro went on to opine, “heroism is when you overcome the obstacle, not when the obstacle overcomes you.”

Never mind that Piers Morgan once stormed off the set of his own talk show because another presenter called him “diabolical.”

Never mind that Simone Biles has already brought great acclaim to the US by virtue of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals (most of them gold).

Never mind that that vault ended Kerri Strug’s career, and never mind that what men like Ben Shapiro don’t EVER understand is that GETTING HELP FOR MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS.

What these Four Horseman of God, I’m a Pubic Hair on Your Cheesecake failed to address was the very real possibility that continuing to compete could have seriously injured Biles, who withdrew from competition not so she could get a manicure and eat Oreos by the pool, but ONLY after she began to experience the “twisties” – a term gymnasts use to describe what happens when, in midair, their body disconnects from their brain, and they are unable to control their movement. Catherine Burns described the “twisties” this way: “Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car.” Laurie Hernandez, who was a also member of the 2016 Rio Gold Medal team, further explained, “the rhythm is off, and your brain will like, stutter step for half a second, and that’s enough to throw off the whole skill.”

Recognizing the danger she could encounter if she continued to compete, Biles chose to step down – which means that she didn’t fall on the beam on her HEAD, as Dominique Moceanu did in Atlanta in 1996. Biles’ decision came as a shock to her much younger and less-experienced teammates, all of whom looked to her for leadership, but they persevered. They understood – as the roughly 99.99% percent of us who aren’t elite gymnasts cannot – that Biles had every reason to stay in the competition if there had been any way she could have, and that she bowed out not because she wanted to, but because she knew it was the right thing to do.

Unless you’re like Aaron Reitz, who thinks she should have risked paralysis in order to represent her country.

Unless you’re like Piers Morgan, who likes to smell his ball sweat and thinks tending to one’s mental health – so it doesn’t get worse – is not something a “strong role model does.”

Unless you’re like Ben Shapiro, who thinks that being subjected to neglect and food uncertainty as an infant, being placed in the foster system as a young child, and having to accept that being serially molested as a necessary part of doing the thing she loved more than anything else is not “an obstacle.”

It’s probably worth mentioning that Simone had enough humility to understand that there might possibly be other members of her team who might possibly be stronger competitors that day…or that she was gracious enough to allow them the opportunity to shine while cheering them on the entire time, keeping them loose, and letting them know that, contrary to what many have said, Team USA was a force to be reckoned with even without Simone Biles on the floor.

It’s even more worth mentioning that the kind of woman Piers and Aaron and Charlie and Ben appear to value is one who does whatever she’s told, blindly obeys a domineering male coach despite agonizing pain, always puts her own needs last, and never considers if she’s really okay until she’s downed a bottle of pills or put her kids in a car and rolled them into a lake. That’s certainly the kind of women I want to raise – ones with no voice, no agency, no insight, and no sense of self-determination.

We’ve just come out of (or maybe are going back into) a pandemic that has ravaged the mental health of so many, and if there has been anything positive about COVID, it’s maybe that more Americans are seeking help for their mental health challenges – which benefits everyone. More and more people – including those with penises – have come to see that, as Michael Phelps has famously said, “it’s okay to not be okay,” and that it’s even more okay to seek treatment when the world seems too hard to navigate.

Simone Biles is a hero, and not because of the hardware on her shelves or the money she’s made. She’s a hero because, at a moment when the whole world was watching, she said, “I need help.”

Simone Biles owes us nothing, but at what must have been an excruciating moment for her, she gave us something far more valuable and lasting than a Team gold medal: She showed us it’s okay to ask for help.

It is. And I know four pus suckers who really, really need it.

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