Comment Of The Day: “Simone Biles Betrayed Her Team…Stop Making Excuses For Her”

USA gymnastics

Well, I can write about the great issues of the day here or universal ethics principles, and attract crickets, but when a spoiled superstar female gymnast chokes on the Olympics stage, THAT attracts the most comments in a 24 hour period that Ethics Alarms has seen in months.

Actually, there is more of ethical significance to the Simone Biles Affair than is immediately apparent. The main issue, I think, may be the hypocrisy of feminists and sports journalists who rush to rationalize conduct by a young woman that no male athlete of any note would ever get away with. There are also profound issues of character, duties to one’s team, the ethics of sport and the the narcissism that celebrity creates. There are also some issues that I expect to emerge down the metaphorical road. For example, I haven’t yet encountered anyone arguing that criticism of Biles’ choke is racist, but given the response in Japan to Naoimi Osaka’s shocking loss in tennis, I expect that is coming. I also have written in my head the Ethics Alarms post responding to any post-Olympics product endorsement deals that come Biles’ way.

Yet another issue is raised by the Comment of the Day by JStevens, in what appears to be his inaugural contributions here, as his reaction to the post, “Simone Biles Betrayed Her Team…Stop Making Excuses For Her”…


For every athlete who is considered the greatest ever, there comes that point where you’re just not the greatest any longer. Whether it’s mental, physical, or someone better comes along, your reign has a time limit.

Some athletes hang on for the money, some because they can’t accept it, and some because they just love what they do and don’t care if they’re not always number one. What bothers me about what Simone did is that she decided it was over for her after a disastrous vault. Not before the competition, not during the extensive warm-ups, only after an awful performance that counted. I just get the feeling that pressure or not, as she’s been under this same pressure for a decade, it wasn’t about saving the team, since she had guaranteed they’d lose the gold at that point. It was more about losing the perception of perfection, the public’s, and her own.

Better to go out on top than to fall from grace.


I’m back to emphasize that the problem for Biles is that she fell from grace already, and I question whether she has the character or fortitude to come back from it. “Going out on top” is tricky, and few manage it in in any field. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t, for example.) The next best thing is realizing as quickly as possible when you can no longer meet your own standards, and quit then. As JStevens notes, the huge salaries and contracts many athletes have often result in them being willing to scar their own legacies and hurt their teams in the pursuit of obscene amounts of cash. Very, very few elite athletes quit when they have both their peak skills and the riches that accompany them. One example was Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who had one of his greatest seasons at 40 but refused to retract his promise made before the season that it would be his last. That’s going out on top.

More dramatic is the superstar who crashes, but determined not to leave a loser, takes the risk of failing again to be able to “go out on top,” and succeeds. Heavyweight George Foreman is an example of one who pulled this off, coming back years after his humiliating defeat by Muhammad Ali to regain the title. There are too many inspiring stories like that, not to mention novels and movies like “The Natural,” to list.

There’s nothing admirable or dramatic about what Biles did. She chose to give up the second she wasn’t on top, without even trying to climb back. She’s not only not a role model, she’s an ethics corrupter.

12 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Simone Biles Betrayed Her Team…Stop Making Excuses For Her”

  1. I imagine Ortiz knew it was his last and gave it all he got. Don’t need to save “it” trying to preserve a post 40 career.

    • When many, many players and former team mates said it was crazy not to play another year after showing he still had “it”, Big Papi answered that excelling at an advanced age was no fun, that it was a lot of pain and work, and the money wasn’t worth trying to do it again.

  2. Wondering if Biles’ behavior at these Olympics will help, hinder, or have virtually no effect, on future endorsements and how likely is it that she factored this in if her assessment was a positive effect.

  3. I feel like is a lack of nuance to this conversation. A disregard for the peculiarities of gymnastics as a sport, and for Biles’ history of competing even with broken toes and kidney stones.
    From relevant accounts of professional gymnasts and people with sufficient knowledge in the field, the “twisties” could be quite dangerous for a gymnast who experiences it. And if this was what Simone Biles experienced, then I would think that it would sufficiently explain and justify her pulling out of the competition entirely.
    While I am totally behind the general rule that requires sportsmanship and responsibilities to one’s teammates, fans and nation, I also hold that there are exceptions to it, and this case constitutes a exception.

    I take issues with descriptions of her withdrawal as “brave”, it wasn’t, it was unfortunate. But it was also necessary for life and limb.

    • I had to look up the “twisties.” All these decades of Olympics gymnastics, and she’s the first competitor struck with the mysterious malady mid-games? Color me skeptical. Again, people are looking awfully hard for an excuse when the truth may be simple: Occam’s Razor.

      • While your skepticism is totally justified, I think you have to consider the history of Biles performing even with serious physical health deprivations. I am more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

        I think the circumstances of this story calls for charity.

        • Choking has nothing to do with health. Her own messages essentially said, “I can’t handle the pressure.” I take her at her word, but it is the job of elite, highly paid athletes to handle the pressure. Refusing isn’t an option.

  4. While not athletes, Rush retired at the end of their tour in 2015. The drummer, Neil Peart, a perfectionist and demanding performer, believed that if he couldn’t deliver at the highest level he expected abd set for himself, he would step away from the kit. Remember, a Rush show is a 3-hour extravaganza of highly relentless music often involving crazy time signature and tempo changes, and considering the way he played, it was physically demanding. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson believed thecsame thing. That last tour demonstrated professionalism and musicianship second to none. That is ethics in motion.

    On a related nite, US Gymnastics and the whole Olympics machine is in scramble mode promoting the other gymnasts. The new darling sermscto he Suni Lee.


  5. My only observation is that in the week leading up to the game Ms. Biles appeared in a number of interviews. She articulated, in all of the ones I heard, her fears, anxieties, and overwhelming angst. She acknowledged that she has been a long time at the trough (17 years) and realized that the younger competitors had a definite advantage. She publically acknowledged her age rendered it painful to even get to the gymnasium. IMHO she should never have gotten on the plane to Tokyo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.