July 29, 2021

A day after dropping out of the team competition at the Tokyo Olympics, American gymnast Simone Biles has withdrawn from today’s individual all-around competition to concentrate on her mental health.

Two quick thoughts. First, if there’s one thing that we can never fully understand, it’s what is going on inside of another human being. Heck, most of us aren’t even sure what is going on inside our own heads, which is why we turn to therapists or partners or pastors or friends to help us better understand our feelings and emotions.

Secondly, as disappointed as many of us are that Biles is not competing, let’s remind ourselves that no one has committed more energy, time and sweat to Simone Biles’ Olympic dreams than … Simone Biles.

Some of the usual professional trollers are criticizing Biles’ decision — middle-aged white guys such as conservative talk show host Clay Travis, Trump activist Charlie Kirk and Piers Morgan. Meanwhile, Fox News had on J.D. Vance, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in Ohio next year, and teed him up to criticize the media for applauding Biles’ decision to prioritize her mental health. (Although, it should be noted that Fox News’ medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier supported Biles’ decision on “Outnumbered,” as did host Harris Faulkner and panelist Dagen McDowell.)

But, mostly, Biles seems to be getting support.

The headline on a smart Candace Buckner column in The Washington Post: “For exceptional Black women like Simone Biles, greatness is never enough.” Buckner wrote, “Whenever Biles pulls on her leotard, it’s as though she’s tightening a cape around her neck. She’s the hero tasked with saving a sullied sport, embodying some trite belief in American dominance — and also carrying a gender and an entire race. That’s a heavy cape, and it chokes. But it’s one that exceptional Black women, and women of color, are told to wear. Because simply being great isn’t good enough.”

Buckner added, “They have to be superlative, as well as trailblazers. They have to be avatars of progress and change, and also fulfill a deeper societal responsibility as role models who break glass ceilings while breaking records. But here’s the thing: It’s okay for Biles just to be amazing. Let her greatness stand on its own. We can be wowed and celebrate her without also expecting her to single-handedly revive gymnastics after a sexual abuse scandal, while also leading little Black girls to balance beams all over the nation.”

A few other worthwhile pieces about the Biles story:

The New York Times’ Jeré Longman: “Simone Biles Rejects a Long Tradition of Stoicism in Sports.” And, in the Chicago Tribune, Darcel Rockett with “Simone Biles stepped back from the Olympics for her own self-care. The world should pay attention.” And The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay with “What Simone Biles Was Saying.”

Oh, and here’s a good piece about the Olympic setup from The New York Times’ John Branch: “Tick, Tick, Tick: Athletes’ Grueling Wait for an Olympic Moment.”

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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