Simone Biles is deserving of respect, not contempt, for her decision to withdraw from Olympic competition.
That is the question being posed by some.
When the dust settled Tuesday after the world's greatest female gymnast courageously withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics team competition due to being overcome by pressure, an ugly truth emerged.
Some viewed her bravery as cowardly. Her selflessness was viewed as traitorous by some. Numerous sports fans, accustomed to applauding their heroes for "sucking it up" and possessing "ice water in their veins," were incensed.
Biles appeared to anticipate the backlash, and after the United States team struggled to a silver medal following her departure, she offered this heartbreaking quote to NBC's Hoda Kotb.
“We hope that America continues to love us,” Biles stated.
Regrettably, the answer is no.
On Twitter, her claim to be the greatest of all time was questioned — she even sewed the GOAT acronym into her leotard.
“GOATS do not suffocate.”
A double standard has been established.
“If Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the Super Bowl and then walked away, he would be labeled a quitter, a choke artist, and so on. Why are people so gentle with Simone Biles?”
Her career has been ruined.
“Are you serious? Consider LeBron abandoning his teammates in the NBA finals due to a poor first quarter. It makes no difference if he remained on the bench rooting for them. She annihilated her legacy.”
Additional outlandish comparisons were made.
“Simone Biles withdraws from the competition due to a lack of mental fortitude. Consider addressing someone as the GOAT at anything and they choke during the one event that matters once every four years. Yikes. I doubt Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan would do such a thing.”
There was much hyperbole.
“Had Simone Biles continued, fought back, and aided the team in winning Gold, she would be the greatest gymnast of all time; the fact that she quit in the face of adversity makes her the biggest choke in US Olympic history.”
Finally, and most horrifyingly, some questioned her reasons for leaving.
“You'd better stop airing those Simone Biles commercials...
I haven't witnessed a choke this bad since the Atlanta Falcons...
Mental health problems are not a medical problem.”
All of which prompts this befuddled narrator to make a straightforward request.
Everyone, please keep your mouths shut. Simply put, shut up.
To begin, never, ever, ever compare Simone Biles to any athlete in any team sport.
She is not merely representing a city; she is shouldering the burden of an entire country. She does not compete against teammates who can bail her out; she is completely self-sufficient. Rather than a 100-yard field, she balances on a four-inch balance beam. Rather than a 162-game season, she decides whether she wins or loses in 90 seconds.
Tom Brady or LeBron James have no idea how much pressure Biles was under at the age of 24, when she was tasked with representing America's Olympians in a pandemic bubble with countless protocols and no fans.
So while NBA players were excused for collapsing in their bubble last year — mental health issues forced the Clippers to postpone their 2020 season — Biles is not?
True, she broke down. She admitted as much. What is the point? It was similar to when tennis star Naomi Osaka acknowledged her own mental health issues during the recent French Open and again this week after being upset in the Olympic third round.
Through the wisdom and strength of these young women, even the most jaded sports fans are forced to acknowledge that injuries can involve more than muscles and bones, which is a good thing.
Mental health problems are, in fact, medical problems, and acknowledging this fact should result in increased understanding and a more reasonable relationship between athlete and fan. Perhaps pause before screaming that someone choked when, in fact, competing is an incredible feat in and of itself. Perhaps you should allow Biles to explain her mental state before labeling her a quitter.
”Today... I was literally trembling. I've never felt this way before a competition," she told reporters during a news conference she could easily have skipped. “Once I came out, I thought, 'No, my mental state is not present.'"
Biles is not a toy. She is a human, and if her mental faculties were absent, her body would have been absent as well, and she could have leaped into serious injury or worse.
Biles could have gritted her teeth, but she would have put herself in danger and most likely knocked her team out of contention for a medal. The simple solution would have been to continue competing. She chose the difficult, humiliating path, despite the fact that she knew she would pay a high price.
Bear in mind that Biles walked a difficult path to compete here. She did not require these Olympics, particularly after they were postponed for a year and after she revealed she was one of hundreds of women sexually abused by former national team physician Larry Nassar.
She traveled to Tokyo to honor survivors and inspire others. However, as a result, she arrived in Tokyo carrying the heaviest of burdens.
Prior to the Games, reporters asked her about her most memorable moment in her career, to which she replied, "Honestly, probably my time off."
Then, recently on Instagram, she wrote, "At times, I truly feel as if I am carrying the weight of the world."
That weight finally crushed her indomitable 4-foot-8, 104-pound frame, and she may or may not return for the individual competitions, but she should not be required to demonstrate her strength to anyone.
Still, some questioned why Biles was unable to demonstrate the toughness of Kerri Strug, the 1996 Olympic gymnast who vaulted on an injured ankle and led the United States team to gold.
Fact: Without the prodding of infamous coach Bela Karolyi, who was later criticized for verbally and psychologically abusing athletes, Strug would not have attempted the second vault and risked further ankle injury. Strug is one of this country's greatest Olympians, but his success could have come at a high personal cost.
Another fact: Among those tweeting in support of Biles on Tuesday was a prominent member of that 1996 team, speaking for a sizable portion of this country that will hopefully drown out the naysayers.