On Tuesday, July 27th in Tokyo, Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team final after scoring a low 13.766 on her vault. NBC analyst, Nastia Liukin, observed the vault and said, “It looked like she got almost lost in the air.”
Biles subsequently withdrew from the individual all-around which was won by American, Sunisa Lee, on Thursday.
The initial reason for Biles’ withdrawal came from Carol Fabrizio, a USA Gymnastics spokesperson:
“Simone has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
Biles’ version was, “After that vault, I was like: I’m not in the right headspace. I’m not going to lose a medal for this and for these girls because they’ve worked way too hard.”
The aftermath was a torrent of social and political commentary and well-wishes from writers, podcasters, sports analysts, media hosts, politicians, and talk show personalities. Responses were either supportive or skeptical.
- Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press wrote, “Just as no one should dispute Biles’ greatness, no one should argue with her decision. She’s in charge of herself, and anyone doubting her resolve should take a look at her trophy case.”
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh warned, “Quitting is understandable but it cannot be admirable.” “The problem is that now we are exhorted, not simply to understand why someone quits, but to actively applaud them for doing it. What makes the Simone Biles story troubling is not that the women’s gymnastics team had to settle for a silver medal, but that our cultural powers that be want us to celebrate cowardice.”
- Michael Phelps, a hugely successful Olympic swimmer asserted, “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.”
- A Black sports journalist, Jason Whitlock anguished, “I’m looking at the media and everybody afraid over social media, ‘Oh, this little Black girl, if I criticize her, I’m going to be accused of racism. So, everybody’s going the other direction.” “Are you kidding me? And we’re cosigning this and acting like this is appropriate and normal?”
- Congresswoman Cori Bush from Saint Louis tweeted, “I stand with Simone Biles. I stand with Naomi Osaka. Your health and peace matters. You’re reminding Black women that we can take the space we need for ourselves.”
A Texas politician has already apologized for having “opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed.” His tweet that sparked the apology called Biles a “national embarrassment.”
The former First Lady Michelle Obama offered here support:
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) July 28, 2021
One often-mentioned disappointment among commentators is that Biles held a spot on the gymnastics team that could have been occupied by a more invested and enthusiastic athlete. In 2015, the international governing body for gymnastics reduced the allowable number of team members from five to four. Prospects for making the team tightened.
In gauging how people across the country weighed in on Biles’ withdrawal, traditionalists see it as a defeat for her and her country while progressives see it as, well, progress.
Me? I keep thinking about the gymnast who was next in line to be in the 2021 Summer Olympics.
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Author: Bascott O’Connor
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