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.