If You’re Criticizing Simone Biles, This Is the Company You Keep. Think About That.

If You’re Criticizing Simone Biles, This Is the Company You Keep. Think About That.
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Not even two months ago, when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open due to struggles with mental health—and promptly received a fine and criticism that still hasn't let up—I wrote a piece about how we continue to fail our athletes. Even with what felt like years of progress, all it took was Osaka, or Kyrie Irving, or any athlete that pundits and fans had a shut up and dribble mentality toward, to unravel it all. For a certain crowd of people, it turns out that it's not OK to be not OK.

So it didn't come as much surprise that the next time we saw a top-level athlete withdraw from an event over mental health concerns, we saw everyone who has been fixating on Osaka this summer turn their ire to them. Unfortunately, that star is Simone Biles. Weeks removed from an absurd scoring controversy, Biles withdrew from the gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo Games to focus on her mental health. She will not defend her gold medal in the all-around final, either. Here's what she said to reporters after the meet.

"You have to be there 100%," Biles said. "If not, you get hurt. Today has been really stressful. I was shaking. I couldn't nap. I have never felt like this going into a competition, and I tried to go out and have fun. But once I came out, I was like, No. My mental is not there."

"It's been a long year, and I think we are too stressed out. We should be out here having fun," Biles added. "Sometimes that's not the case."

As expected, we saw the usual crowd attack Biles from the comfort of their phones, either saying that she should've pushed through it, couldn't handle the pressure, or grossly accused her of having a victim complex. (Another refrain: Get rid of her if she doesn't want to be there.) Forget that Biles has done far more than most of us can hope to do for this country in five lifetimes—aside from her impossible achievements on the mat, Biles continues to put pressure on USA Gymnastics to find resolve for victims of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse. That's all in addition to Biles reminding people that gymnastics isn't golf, tennis, hoops, YouTubing, political pundit-ing, whatever your hobby is—because if you have a slip of mind in what she does for a living, you might leave with a broken neck.

Those who thought they had something to say still said it anyway.

My first instinct was to write about how Biles didn't fail us—it's that so many of us failed her. But that's not even my story to write. What Biles said is what she said. And it shouldn't be worth repeating, but when anyone says they're stepping back because of mental health concerns, we need to leave it at that. This isn't pundit fodder. It's not the time to start drafting the tweet where you show your concern for Biles and her health, buuuuut write that she can still redeem herself by competing next week, right? This is not an issue where we should show up, First Take-style, and weigh in with the opinion no one's had yet. We debate touchdowns and goals, not anxiety and depression.

So if you choose to get on TV, ship off a tweet, or hell, even tell a friend that Biles should've sucked it up, you're on the same side of history that banished Tommie Smith from public life after he raised his fist at the 1968 Summer Olympics. It's as simple as that. You, me—or any of us—don't need to say another word.

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