So, everyone seems to have an opinion about Simone Biles. And the opinions seem to range from: “You go, girl!” to “She betrayed ‘Merica!” Which is strange, considering nobody cares about women’s gymnastics who isn’t actively participating in women’s gymnastics – unless it’s the Olympics. And that’s not a knock on women’s gymnastics! How many people watch swimming on a regular basis? Who follows handball? So, those who feel deeply betrayed by Biles need to take a chill pill; also her valiant defenders: take a chill pill because, sadly but truly, Simone Biles was always destined to stop being relevant, and if this were any other time but the Olympics no one would care.
But I must admit, the whole story is deeply confusing! Biles says she needs to stop competing for her mental health. If her mental state is actually in danger, then bowing out might be the best choice. But didn’t she realize her mental health was this fragile until now? She didn’t realize the pressure was getting to her until after qualifying and opening ceremonies, when the rosters are fixed and she’s already competed? She didn’t consider that this might be too much for her? And even if she didn’t, she can’t just stick it out for a few more days? She’s spent her whole life training for this moment and she’s just going to drop out? It seems … odd. But I have no clue whether this is a good decision or a bad one, it might be the best decision available, but it does seem like a poorly planned one.
However, I think I already stated the real problem. You probably skimmed it over, so I’ll repeat it: “she’s spent her whole life training for this moment.” Sadly, and I can’t say that this is true for Simone, but it is true of MULTITUDES like her, her life revolves around sports, which is a cruel and merciless idol. Gymnastics is not kind to gymnasts, especially women gymnasts. Most are past their prime at 20. Sure, some compete into their 40s … but 40 is young, when we consider all of life. Most of these girls (and guys) build their life around something that is destined to end before their prefrontal cortex is fully formed! They dedicate themselves to something that will be of no use to them after they “retire” in their teens!
The problem is that Americans have believed the lie that youth sports will make our children relevant. That dedicating our kids at the altar of athletics is going to somehow give them the best chance at success. But sports is an idol, and like all idols, sports disappoints. I think Simone Biles is coming to grips with the reality that dedicating your life to being the greatest gymnast in history is actually a pretty meaningless and empty life. I think she’s learning just how soul-crushing it is to learn that idols aren’t the living and true God and therefore cannot give life, love, purpose or peace. I’m sad she’s learning this in such a public and vulnerable way. But maybe it’s good that it’s public, so that maybe American parents will learn from this oft-repeated lesson and not subject their kids to idolatry. Maybe, but I doubt it.