Unethical Quote Of The Month: NBC Gymnastics Commentator Nastia Liukin

2021 Gymnastics - Nastia Cup

I’m not going to pull a single quote from former gymnast and current ethics corrupter Liukin’s much-praised and shockingly awful letter slobbering all over Simone Biles. The whole thing is revolting, and as riddled with offensive anti-ethics as Sonny Corleone was riddled with bullets. Here it is—I’m going to letter each line for reference.

Dear Simone,

Thank you.

A. Thank you for showing the depth of who you are beyond an athlete as a leader, role model, mental health warrior, and person.

B. Thank you for epitomizing what the next generation of role models should be.

C. Thank you for creating a safer space for current and future athletes to unequivocally be themselves.

D. Thank you for helping the world realize that prioritizing your physical and mental health is the mark of a true champion.

E. Thank you for illuminating that nobody is defined by the depth of their trophy case, and that you don’t owe anything to anyone but yourself and the pursuit of happiness.

F. Thank you for taking the sport of gymnastics to new heights as the unanimous GOAT. No one will be remembered for any single routine, competition, or medal.

G.You, however, will undeniably be remembered by many for the compassion and bravery shown here in Tokyo.

H.You came here as a gymnast, and you’re leaving as a hero.

xo NL

Wait, I have to gag…ACK!!PTUI!GGGGACK!

I think it’s past, but as I review this astounding exercise in gaslighting and designating as admirable what isn’t, my gorge may rise again, so you have been warned. Well..

A. Biles certainly showed who she is as “leader, role model, mental health warrior, and person.” She’s a fraud and a failure. As a leader of her team, she quit mid-battle. As a role model, she now stands for abandoning those who trust you and rely on you. “Mental health warrior”? Using mental health as an excuse to avoid responsibilities isn’t being a “warrior.” So far, there’s no evidence that Biles has any mental health malady at all. Feeling stress and pressure to perform is what her chosen profession requires.

As for those praising Biles “as a person” for failing one of the most basic test of sports, doing one’s best to compete when one is not feeling in top form—they are incomprehensible to me. This is celebrating a failure of character as a virtue.

B. Liukin is literally saying that the next generation of role models should be narcissistic quitters. God Save The United States of America.

C. I’m not even sure what this is supposed to mean. I think it means that future star athletes who behave like selfish assholes won’t face the same kind of criticism that every athlete before Biles would have because she got away with it. As for the imagined accomplishment of unequivocally being themselves, the concept is incompatible with being on a team, a staff, an army, or any group that has a single purpose that every member must subjugate their own needs to accomplishing.

D. “Prioritizing your physical and mental health is the mark of a true champion“? That’s interesting: so Kerri Strug was NOT a champion, then. Curt Schilling, who pitched two games with his ankle crudely stitched together to win the World Series for his team wasn’t a true champion. Ali would have been a true champion if he quit every fight as soon as his head hurt. Is that the new definition of champion? Not sacrificing for your team because it might hurt? Thanks for the clarification.

E. Not just wrong but despicably wrong: as a public figure representing her team, her sport and her nation, Biles owes a lot of people a great deal. “I don’t owe anything to anyone but myself and the pursuit of happiness’ is the credo of a sociopath.

F. No “greatest of all time” in any field, profession, pursuit or sport quit like Biles did, when so many were depending on her. She has taken her sport down to new lows. Liukin’s statement her is literally the opposite of reality.

G. What “compassion and bravery”?

H. There is no definition of “hero” that fits Biles’ behavior at the Olympics.

I know I’ve probably written about this story too much. This is the 5th Ethics Alarms post on Biles, and I don’t give a rip about the Olympics, or gymnastics, or, in the normal course if things, her. But she is an ethics corrupter, and attention must be paid. It is not “conservative” critics who have spoken the truth about Biles, it is those with consistent standards who resists narrative contrived to avoid accountability for celebrities possessing special features that some feel confer immunity from ethics. Not criticizing her high-profile selfishness and narcissism, and worse, praising it, undermines societal values, and especially the values of the rising generation. I know mine is a tiny megaphone, but one can only do what one can do. This is wrong, and the more people who understand that it is wrong, the better.

35 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Month: NBC Gymnastics Commentator Nastia Liukin

  1. The military shoots those who desert on the face of the enemy.
    Any sponsor that uses her signals that their products will fail when you need them most.

  2. If there is a cannabis based deoderant out there she could she could be their spokesperson using the tag line “Like Simone our product will leave you high and dry”.

    • Elena Mukhina, the 1978 women’s gymnastics World Champion, broke her leg and was not permitted the appropriate time to heal. Soviet gymnastics coaches pressured doctors to remove her cast early so she could start training for the 1980 Olympics.
      She protested heavily, as she knew her leg was not properly healed and would not withstand the grueling training regimen typical of her sport. Trainers and coaches dismissed her concerns and forced her to continue her training.
      While practicing the Thomas Salto (since banned for being so dangerous), she underrotated due to her newly weakened leg, and she landed on her chin. She broke her neck, which rendered her quadraplegic for the rest of her life. She was 20 years old at the time and died at 46.
      Reports from Tokyo are that Simone Biles does not trust her own mind and body right now. Given the high level of difficulty (and danger) of the skills she performs, it is asking A LOT to expect her to continue to perform before that self-trust is restored. By pulling out of the team finals, she is listening to her body and her mind and giving herself enough time to heal.
      Simone is doing what Elena was not permitted to do- be a voice for her own body and mental health. What if, instead of reading the headline “Simone Biles pulls out of team final”, they were greeted with “Simone Biles paralyzed during dismount.”

      • Moral luck.

        I’m also going to say that the injury/breakdown/mind control ray (because really, there has not been a clear mention of what exactly Biles is suffering) did not happen after the failed vault. Either she knew she had to withdraw earlier – and in that case there may be more of a story based on conversation with coaches, etc. – or she could push through with somewhat diminished performance. If she is to be a hero she must be prepared to act like one and be willing to risk some of her wellbeing for something greater (in this case, the team).

        I do not know of the specifics, so I won’t be too hard on her. But I will say that in my time as a competitive athlete (tae kwon do) my team would have shunned me if I withdrew from my match and gave a point to the other team instead of fighting. And they would have been right.

        What I will strongly condemn is the praise been given for her decision. It is either a complicated one that might deserve compassion (but no accolades for it) or a selfish one that deserves condemnation. I still don’t see a scenario where her decision is praiseworthy.

      • CBP,

        I didn’t know the story of Elena Muhkina, but I see virtually no parallel between her situation and that of Simone Biles except that they’re both female gymnasts. Ms. Muhkina was dealing with an actual physical injury. Biles is not. Muhkina was a gymnast for the Soviet Union, where people had little will in any matter and absolutely no say in it. Biles is not. Muhkina was forced to participate despite her injury. Had Biles been injured in any way that approached her Soviet counterpart, as a member of the US Team, she would never…NEVER…have been expected, much less coerced, to compete. Muhkina actually did compete – regardless of circumstance – and Biles did not.

        The “what-if” scenarios can be played out for any scenario. What if a basketball player has a career-ending injury while playing? Should every player sit on the bench? Same for women’s soccer, and pole vault, and the long jump. Every event in Olympic sport comes with a risk of injury.

        I’m not going to say Ms. Biles doesn’t have a mental issue…I don’t know and, truth be told, it matters little to me. But to see her withdraw at the late stage and then be celebrated in most arenas is a testament to how little regard our nation now has for the Olympics, and how little pride we as citizens (in general) take in our country.

        When people don’t think their country is great, they care little how we look on the world stage. In fact, some would rather we look bad.

      • I don’t comprehend the thinking here at ALL. “Self-doubt” potentially afflicts everyone in any position of responsibility. It is not a broken leg. Biles had earned millions because she had delivered on her implied promise to excel at spinning through the air. That talent also caused her team mates, her sponsors and the nation to rely on her. When others rely on you, you are obligated to sacrifice yourself to some degree for the greater good. Those who sacrifice more than can be reasonably expected are called heroes. Those who behave as Liukin thinks they should are, rightfully, derided as lacking in character, dedication and trustworthiness—unless, apparently, the athlete is a female gymnast.

        If she is genuinely injured, she has had plenty of time to say so. As it is, we can only conclude that she lost her nerve, and preferred to let her team, sponsors, fans and country down rather than risk losing. What happened to “there is no I in team”? “Quitters never win”? The Man in the Arena? Biles is causing the culture to abandon centuries of values rather than call what she has done what it is. Running away. Choking.

        Anyone who give the woman a single penny based on ger gymnastics skill after this is a fool.

        • Biles is causing the culture to abandon centuries of values rather than call what she has done what it is.

          Well, if an entire culture can abandon its principles over the failure of one young woman, the blame belongs to the culture, not the timing woman.

          • An entire culture already abandoned a lot of its ethics over the death of one career criminal in police custody. When cities are taking down statues of Christopher Columbus and putting up statues of George Floyd, you know where ethics is headed. So tell me, just what continent did George Floyd discover?

            We have become a society that values victimhood over achievement, selfishness over selflessness, and color over competence.

      • Biles is due compassion, because limitation and frailty are integral parts of the human condition. But that same truth is precisely the reason why we celebrate those who seem unstoppable, those who defy and surpass limitations. Her failure is understandable. It should be forgivable, but it is failure. It is not heroism, it is not leadership, and it is not admirable.

      • It’s too bad that Liukin didn’t reference Muhkina’s story. It would have added an absolutely essential layer of perspective on this. I can’t help wondering if this is what she had in mind.

  3. I agree fully that this focus on Biles has gone on too long, and I see very little in the way of pertinent new information.
    In ethics decision making, the first step is: “Determine precisely what must be decided.” We can quibble over what that is in Biles’ case, but I believe it is to evaluate her decision that the team would be in a better position to win the gold if she were not competing. We could end the discussion right there by noting that her teammates and coaches, so far as we can tell, fully supported Biles, and that they are in the best position to evaluate her decision. But, we might consider that they are being dishonest, or that we know more than they do about what would make the best team composition, so we move on.
    In ethics decision making, the second step in evaluating is: “Distinguish solid facts from beliefs, desires, theories, suppositions, unsupported conclusions, opinions, and rationalizations.”
    So, where are the solid facts about Biles’ mental ability to perform physically difficult and dangerous athletic stunts? What great skill we must have to judge that from afar. What hubris we must possess to proclaim with such certitude that we know her mental state and the impact it would have on her ability to perform. The arguments against her seem to be of the caliber, “Just rub some dirt on it and get back in there,” and that’s right because we just KNOW her mental state is not all that bad.
    Somehow, we are able to state with certainty that C. C. Sabathia is an ethics hero because his mental state was such that he had to leave the team exactly when he did, that he needed to take care of himself right now, and that he was not letting the team down at all because his performance had slipped. That Biles’ performance had slipped to the point where her teammates all out-performed her on the vault apparently is irrelevant, and we still can state with certainty that there is no evidence of a mental malady, so she should have continued to compete.
    The example of Mukhina is somewhat apt, because she argued she had not had time to heal properly, which, of course, had an impact on her confidence. The example of Melanie Coleman would be more apt for showing just how dangerous gymnastic stunts can be. The example of Julissa Gomez would be more apt for showing what could happen when those not ready to compete in this kind of event are pressured to suck it up and get back in there.

    • 1. “We could end the discussion right there by noting that her teammates and coaches, so far as we can tell, fully supported Biles, and that they are in the best position to evaluate her decision.’

      Seriously? Their decision to “support” a team mate far more popular than they are is meaningless. It would be meaningful if one didn’t. Surely the template of politics has taught you how this works.

      2. “So, where are the solid facts about Biles’ mental ability to perform physically difficult and dangerous athletic stunts?”

      She’s a lifetime professional gymnast and the alleged GOAT!!! What more facts do you need? Do world renowned brain surgeons suddenly decide that they just can’t operate to save a life because the pressure is too great? Do Broadway megastars skip performances without serious negative consequences? Do superlawyers suddenly clutch before a SCOTUS argument? They all not only know what to do, they are famous for doing it better than anyone. Biles’s excuse doesn’t work in her level of expertise.

      3. I explained that the C.C. example was completely inapplicable, and the fact that you cite it anyway undermines the credibility of your whole argument. He was sick. The team didn’t depend on him. He wasn’t its star. He didn’t say he had forgotten how to pitch.

      4.Coleman is not apt, because she was an amateur, a college gymnast, and nowhere near Biles’ level of expertise, and not even seeking a career in gymnastics. High school football players die, but no NFL player would use that to excuse playing in the Super Bowl.

      • 1. I’ll pass on this one since you have decided her teammates and coaches are not being honest.
        2. (and 3. And 4.) The issue is her mental state at the time she decided to drop out, not what she had previously accomplished, not what others may or may not have done, and not what accolades or disparagement might result. The only reason I mentioned Sabathia again was because the idea that we should simultaneously accept his decision about his mental state and reject Biles’ decision about hers just doesn’t wash for me. What’s unethical here, as Michael alluded to, is minimizing the effect her mental state would have on her performance without knowing what that mental state was at the time.

        • I would just add that Biles said she was withdrawing so that the best team would be on the floor. A lot of commenters here state or imply that she withdrew for her own benefit; where’s the evidence for that?

        • 1. I haven’t decided they are being dishonest. I KNOW they are not in a position to be candid, so their comments can’t be used as evidence of anything.

          2. No, the issue is her responsibility to others, which she voluntarily accepted. People in positions of trust and responsibility can’t just act as if that doesn’t matter, which is what you are doing. A star actress onec came to me and said she was in a bad place mentaly and couldn’t perform. I told her: “I don’t care. You have to perform, and if you don’t, not only will you be fired, I will ensure that this decision ends your career.” And she performed. And did fine. And later told me that I did the right thing, but I already knew that.

          UGH. Alcoholism isn’t a “mental state,” it’s a disease that causes people not to function. If Biles said, “I am an alcoholic,” that would be something else entirely.

  4. Sorry, Jack. You just lost me. I would conclude that not a single person in this sad string understands gymnastics. I would also speculate that not a single person in this string listened to Bikes’ full press conference, or paid attention to various knowledgeable gymnasts (like Dawes) who analyzed the “twisties” and what it means to the danger it puts a gymnast in, as well as the negative impact that mistakes due to this would have on the team. I do feel sorry for the person who did not get to go to the Olympics because Biles took that spot. But I also am now convinced that most responses on this string are unethical.

    • Unethical my eye. I don’t really understand gymnastics, but I do understand quitting. I also understand the concept of seeing things through once you begin them. What’s more, I understand the concept of doing for others, not just for yourself. Finally, I understand the idea of not letting your emotions get in the way of doing what needs to be done. A gymnast who struts around calling herself the Greatest Of All Time does not get to suddenly turn into a fragile snowflake who’s head isn’t in the right place, so she quits when her team needs her the most and expects to be praised for it. It reminds me of now-forgotten singer Charlotte Church’s bid to be cast as Christine Daae in the movie version of Phantom of the Opera flopped, and she tried to mask the fact that she can’t act and was probably never even considered (her one feature, “I’ll Be There,” lasted 10 days in UK theaters and went straight to video in the US) by claiming they told her she’d have to drop some weight and she refused. Yay her for standing up for chubby women who refuse to get into shape (NOT).

      You know, back in the day, Charles Schulz would often have Charlie Brown step up to bat, or get ready to throw a decisive pitch, or whatever, thinking that if he succeeded he’d be a hero, but if he failed, he’d be a “goat,” although that’s the only place I’ve heard goat to be used to mean “chump.” Still, it fits here. Biles went from GOAT to goat. Baaaaa!

    • Meanwhile this weekend, half a hundred NASCAR drivers cast aside their mental reservations and risk life and limb for our entertainment. As famed bull-rider Tye Murray says, “You’re never really ready, it’s just your turn.”

    • Michael, can you name a single elite gymnastics star who was seriously injured–“Killed or paralyzed”—in all the years the sport has featured pixyish mini-athletes? There have been two: one involved safety flaws in equipment that were subsequently addressed, and is thus irrelevant to Biles’ case, and the other, which has been discussed here, involved a broken leg, inadequate recovery, and having to perform a new and dangerous maneuver that she was wary of attempting after being forced by a state run Russia coaching staff. None of this involved “twisties,” and nobody was forcing Biles to try a move she didn’t want to attempt. (“I am not competing because I am being pressured to perform a move I am not confident of, and am standing up for the safety of my fellow gymnast as well as myself.” But she didn’t say that, did she?) Nor do female gymnasts have an unusually high serious injury rate. Moreover, both of the highest profile injuries occurred more than 20 years ago, despite the sport’s elevating standards of difficulty. How did “understanding gymnastics” magically become an echo chamber, to use your words, for the Greatest of All Time to have a justifiable terror of a fanciful tragedy that almost never happens, and so dire that it not only justifies but makes it admirable to quit a competition after accepting all the accolades, trust and cash that goes with being a pretender to that status.

      You area a kind, fair, empathatic human being, but in this case those ethical instincts lead you astray….and to join a chorus of pure cult rationalizations. If you are going to take this angle—and yes, I’m grateful for it as a point of contrast–please explain…

      1. How Kari Strug could be a hero and so can a better, stronger gymnast who did the opposite of what she did?

      2. Why a young black female just happens to be the only athlete in history praised for quitting on her team when every male star in a hundred years would have been mocked mercilessly for the same conduct?

      3.How women can support a female athletes who is demanding special—kinder, gentler– treatment at the exact time that feminist athletes are claiming that women should be treated exactly the same as men?

      4. Why did Biles begin her set of excuses with “I feel so much pressure” and “The weight of the world” instead of the “twisties”? You don’t find that just a teeny bit suspicious, as in a coach or PR consultant concluding, “You know, that won’t fly, Simone—let’s float this”? If a politician began with one explanation for a flop and switched mid-stream, would you still be so credulous? Especially considering that the first explanation—that she was injured—was a cover-up lie? What she says, and what others among her allies say to try to dig the sport’s symbol out of this self-made mess say, matters less than what she did.

      5. How can people keep calling her the “GOAT” when the greatest in any sport literally never behave as she has without losing that status? How can that not be a double standard?

      You have a challenge to accept if you are going to say that the majority of responses here are unethical. Defaulting to the “you don’t understand gymnastics” dodge is beneath you, and I expect more substance than that. (No, the attempted wriggles in a press conference of an athlete who has screwed up and is not only trying to salvage her own reputation but her sport is nearly irrelevant to assessing the character displayed. I DO understand PR, marketing and crisis management. Do you really think she wasn’t coached and advised? Really?

      I’d love you to begin by defending the ridiculous statements by Liukin, which you did not, even while issuing your comment on that post’s thread.

      Come on, this will be fun! I am prepared to be persuaded.

      • Won’t try to defend those statements as o do not believe many of them are well founded. I, like almost all of the commenters, so not understand gymnastics. I have studied the statements by trainers, coaches, and other gymnasts and “twisties” seems to be a real thing, where the athlete loses track of where they are “in space”. Happens on diving, too, but this folks land on water. As for injuries, some have been cited and I appreciated your analysis; but, wouldn’t you agree that the lack of broken necks is “moral luck” (or a similar construct). What is unethical is insistence that she should put herself in that position, and that she should have continued with potential mistakes that very well could — and probably would — further damage her team. Most comments seem to be made by people like me: baseball, basketball, soccer, and some football (our HS could not afford football) players. I do realize that in my other sport, skiing, top competitors go well outside comfort zones, so perhaps that lends some support to the criticism of Biles. Meanwhile, à clearly unethical behavior is from one of the “GOAT” in men’s tennis: “In tennis, Djokovic smashed a racquet against the net post and hurled another into the empty stands in a spectacular meltdown as he lost the bronze medal match to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

        The Serbian world number one, who missed out on his chance at the first men’s Golden Slam — winning all four majors and the Olympics — when he went down to Alexander Zverev in the semis, threw away a one-set lead to lose 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3.

        Djokovic then pulled out of the mixed doubles bronze-medal match citing a left shoulder injury,”

        No, Jack, I am not trying to justify Biles behavior by comparison to Djokovic. But I would be interested in your analysis of his actions, which left his mixed doubles partner in the lurch. (His “shoulder injury” has not yet been confirmed in any reports I have read; if confirmed, his withdrawal — but not his petulant behavior— is justified. )

        • My quick analysis is that if he was not injured, his tantrum and withdrawal is just a traditionally male version of what Biles did (in my view): a pampered star overly used to winning, he couldn’t handle losing and the possibility/likelihood that he would have to perform at mortal levels, so he quit. However, the only one he hurts is himself: tennis isn’t a team sport. The character flaw is the same as with Biles; the harm done is worse in her case, because others were relying on her.

          Now, I did play competitive tennis at a very low level for several years, so I “understand” better than I understand women’s gymnastics. But is anyone calling Djokovic brave and a hero and role model for having the “courage” to drop out rather than face defeat? I don’t know, because I can only research so many narcissist elite jocks at once, but I’d be surprised.

  5. Read “Here’s Johnny” if you haven’t already. And yes, unethical. Ethical includes many of the things cited (so, good that far) and I am much more than familiar with them. Unethical includes criticizing without studying and understanding the “why” as well as the “what.” This string became, for the most part, an echo chamber — and I know Jack does not really appreciate echo chambers.

  6. I think a little grace is in order. Gymnastics isn’t like football or basketball if her “head isn’t in the game” it could be potentially fatal. Is she a hero? No. However, she’s certainly not a villain. I wonder if she won’t regret it later, but that’s a consequence she’ll have to deal with.

  7. “Not criticizing her high-profile selfishness and narcissism, and worse, praising it, undermines societal values, and especially the values of the rising generation.”

    That’s the objective. If you can’t measure up, lower the bar. Succeeding at anything is racist and white supremacist. We’re all a success. It’s the only way to have an equitable society. It’s the new normal.

    Yuck.

    On the compassion side, I feel bad for Simone Biles. She screwed up. It happens. We all screw up. She’s young, she’s got the rest of her life ahead of her. She’s probably well enough off to never really have to work. Maybe she is the greatest gymnast of all time, but she’s got a blot on her career as a gymnast. Does that make her a terrible human being? No. She’s human. But does her handling of this situation, whatever it is, make her a heroine? No.

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