There’s something about social media that makes opinions — particularly those of the “hot take” variety — feel compulsory. But if the Simone Biles saga has revealed anything, it’s that they absolutely are not.
Over the last 24 hours, both well-known personalities and anonymous Twitter avatars alike have chimed in on Biles’ decision to sit out of Tuesday’s gymnastics team final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Some, like conservative firebrand Charlie Kirk, have proudly opined Biles is a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to the country,” while others have lauded her as champion on par with the superheroes of the Marvel Universe.
The fact of the matter is the 24-year-old Olympian is neither.
Biles isn’t a topic to debate or a tool to use in “owning” — as the kids say — one political party over the other. The gold medalist is a human being who made a difficult choice, one she certainly knew would spark a tectonic reaction.
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In the wake of her announcement, Biles retweeted a social media user who asked: “Did she cost the team a gold medal? Or did her decision help her team win a silver medal? Because if she had a really bad performance, her team would not have placed at all.”
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum asked if it’s “that hard to be supportive and empathetic to what others are going through.”
“This is someone’s daughter and her health [you’re] referring to,” he added, talking about Kirk. “[I] wonder if he has kids and how he would feel as a parent [if] someone [was] talking about his kids this way.”
Although their stories are vastly different — and separated by decades of time — Biles’ decision to step aside, as the weight on her shoulders was causing a mental health struggle with real-life consequences, is reminiscent of then-13-year-old runner Maureen Wilton in 1967.
In the ’60s, women were strongly discouraged from running in marathons — the attitude then was that such feats were not possible for females. Nevertheless, Wilton, nicknamed “Mighty Moe,” ran on an unpaved Eastern Canadian Marathon Championships course, and set a world record, besting the previous time by more than four minutes.
Wilton’s astounding success, which wasn’t recognized until years later, came and went without much fanfare at all for a whole host of reasons. Among them was the fact that, by 15 years old, “Mighty Moe” had largely moved on from running. It just wasn’t her passion; but perhaps more importantly, the pressure she faced — namely, from many in the media who argued just how wrong it was for a teenage girl to participate in a marathon — “killed” any desire within her to keep competing.
We have no reason to believe Biles’ passion is gone. In fact, based on everything she’s said and done, it’s still very much alive.
So while Biles’ and Wilton’s circumstances and outcomes might differ greatly, the common thread through both of their stories reveals the immense pressure athletes face.
Rather than leaping at the opportunity to condemn Biles for being “selfish,” why not see the nobility in the sacrifice she made by understanding her own limits and choosing, for the sake of Team USA, to step aside, at least briefly, in order to keep herself from becoming a liability.
Unlike Wilton, who was just a kid when she set a new record, Biles has spent years upon years training vigorously for this very moment. There’s no way she came to the conclusion she did — to stand on the sidelines — without a great deal of heartbreak and reflection.
As Christians, we should push back against the often magnetic pull from our culture, demanding we pick a side and plant a flag.
We are called to live differently.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,” wrote the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. “But only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
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