A Simone Biles Thought Experiment I Dare Her Apologists To Try…

Womens soccer goalie

The New York Times writes of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s desperate-needed victory over the Netherlands in the Olympics:

“It was only afterward that Alyssa Naeher let down her guard. After she had dived to saved the penalty kick late in the game. After she had dived again to push aside the header in extra time. After she had turned away not one but two penalties in the shootout. Naeher’s teammates count on her to do her job as well as they do theirs every time they take the field. Better than they do even, since their mistakes have a tendency to wind up in the back of her net.

In the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament on Friday, facing a dangerous Netherlands attack, that had already happened twice. Now the United States needed Naeher to save them again. After the teams played a 2-2 tie, a penalty kick shootout would decide who would go to the semifinals, and who would go home. The Americans turned to Naeher. Save us, they said. Just like you have before. “There’s no one else I’d rather have in the net than her,” midfielder Rose Lavelle said later. “She’s saved us so many times.” And so Naeher, who had saved her teams in big games and small ones, in World Cups and friendlies, saved them again.”

Now imagine that Naeher suddenly announced when the game was a tie that she would not guard the goal in the shootout, but was quitting the game. “It’s been really stressful, this Olympic Games,” she says. “I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week, it’s been a long Olympic process, it’s been a long year. So just a lot of different variables, and I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out. But we should be out here having fun, and sometimes that’s not the case. I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”

So she quits, just as her team is depending on her. The back-up goalie takes her place, and the American Women’s Soccer Team loses, and is out of the Olympics.

Would Naeher be hailed as a hero and a role model? Would her team mates say afterwards that they support her decision 100%?

31 thoughts on “A Simone Biles Thought Experiment I Dare Her Apologists To Try…

  1. As it turns out, Biles is evidently suffering from a physical condition adversely affecting her sense of balance. It wasn’t nerves or the weight of the world after all. I suppose it would be the equivalent of a goalie being concussed and suffering from blurred vision right before the penalty shoot-out. Nothing to see here. Move on.org.

    • Why didn’t she just say that, then? None of her public statements indicated that there was anything physically wrong with her. The “weight of the world ” mentioned has mental health advocates all over the world going ga-ga because she has led people to believe that her stress caused her to back out, not any physical issue?

        • Sorry, early morning and the difficulties of sometimes discerning intent in text form combined to produce that reaction. Second time this week I’ve misread intent. I should read more carefully.

          • No, A.M, I don’t know what to make of it. You didn’t miss anything in my comment. You’re right. If it was a physical problem, why didn’t someone announce that? You know, her coaches, the team’s communication people, her handlers? I’m more than a little suspicious, but if she was physically unable to perform, the whole thing was a GOAT goat rodeo par excellence. (“You keep using that word goat.”) I’ve yet to see a definitive announcement regarding this apparent explanation for her backing out. But I’ve been busy the last day or so in the world wide world. Cheers.

    • Okay. Moving on. Here we have a tantrum from France, backed up by bad sportsmanship from his coach. Boxer Mourad Aliev sits on the ring apron for almost an hour insisting he won the bout after being disqualified [for “intentionally headbutting” his opponent], His head coach says “We went so far, but we don’t think they wanted France to get a medal,””It looks like every Olympiad there is something like that. I will quit the French team and stop coaching because of that. It’s very difficult.”

  2. There is a difference in that Bile’s sport requires concentration, or you fall incorrectly and snap your neck. A goalie, by contrast gets distracted and maybe gets a concussion. The personal stakes are lower, but not insignificant. If Biles couldn’t safely do her routine, she had an obligation to quit – just like an engineer who couldn’t safely launch a rocket has a duty to stop the rocket. I would also argue a goalie who knows she can’t stop the kick has a duty to step aside.

    However, circumstances matter. If NASA scientists (and/or Jeff Bezos, because the future is now) are reckless and attempt to launch an unsafe rocket, they deserve every bit of criticism they get when the whistleblower goes public to stop the launch. If however, the rocket is otherwise safe, and they delay due to weather, there is no dishonor. The ethical choice is to wait until conditions are safe.

    If the main goalie broke her leg earlier in the game, she should obviously sit out at the critical penalty kick. If broke her leg defending the goal, or through the recklessness of another player, there would be no dishonor. If she broke her leg because she got mad and kicked a wall, she deserves every bit of criticism for recklessly letting her team down.

    If the main goalie doesn’t do everything in her power to get her head in the game, and chokes, she deserves criticism for letting her team down. It is not necessarily reckless, however, to go out on less than all cylinders – her bad day may still be better than the next player’s good. Mistakes happen; it’s moral luck; dedication and practice however tip the odds in the elite player’s favor.

    Gymnastics, however, requires all cylinders. Launching yourself into the air, flipping up and down, is inherently dangerous. Not having your head in the game gets you killed. However, if you can’t get your head in the game, and quit, you’ve let your team down. You damaged that trust, and hurt the team in many ways, spreading doubt throughout the organization. Deciding you don’t want to die by recklessly bumbling through your routine is a defensible position. But it doesn’t deserve praise. At best, it doesn’t deserve getting piled on by excessive and toxic criticism.

    Earlier in the Olympics, the telecasters related the heartbreaking story of a gymnast who qualified at the trials for a single event. She competed in a preliminary round, and lost. Due to covid protocol, she had leave the country within 48 hours, and could not stay and support her team.

    Biles gets the queen’s pass; she gets to “decide” if she’ll compete in the finals in the individual floor event. She has already withdrawn from several other events, but gets to stick around “support her team”, despite no guarantee that she keep her final promise to Team USA.

    Losers go home; quitters stay.

    Praising Biles for quitting, and humoring her fickleness in future events, can only have a toxic influence on the team. If she can’t handle the pressure when the pole comes to vault, she should have withdrawn from all events immediately. If that means going home due to COVID, so be it. Have the courage to admit defeat and walk away.

    Just don’t expect to be called a winner for doing so.

    • Excellent points. I heard a commentator state that Biles did her job, which was to put the team in medal contention. A bit of twisted logic in my mind.

      She pulled out and left her team scrambling without a leader. She can cheer from the sidelines all she wants but that move impaired the team’s chance for a gold medal. It also denied other gymnasts the chance to beat her.


    • If gymnastics are this dangerous, why on earth are they allowed to continue as a sport? There must be quadriplegic girls or worse, dead girls all over the world in every gym. This isn’t a sport, it’s child abuse.

      • Thanks, that’s my general reaction to this line of excuses. All of a sudden this sport than hundreds of thousands of young girls train in is deadly. Obviously it isn’t deadly, or even frightening, to those who are trained. Applying this argument to the GOAT is forced at best.

        • …much the same way I’ve always argued that I have yet to see the news reports of all the airplanes that crashed during takeoff or landing because someone was playing Dr. Mario on his Game Boy.

          It’s self-evidently ridiculous.


  3. I have strained mightily to read the minds of Biles and of Naeher (in that made-up situation), but, damn, I just can’t do it. I envy those who can.
    Biles said she was dropping out for the benefit of the team, that she believed her teammates would score better without her. If there is evidence disproving her apparent belief, I haven’t seen it. We could assume that the gymnastics team would have won gold with Biles performing, or bronze, or nothing, or we could assume that Naeher’s theoretical back-up would have blocked the shoot-out kicks, or not, but they are just that, assumptions.
    Biles said she didn’t do her job and that all the credit for the success the team had was theirs. The reaction of the scribblers and talking heads is all on them and is not relevant to her decision.
    “So I was trying a two and a half, and I ended up doing a one and a half. Just got a little bit lost in the air — which is really unfortunate, especially to have a score like that go up there for the team. I feel like I robbed them of a couple of tenths and we could have been a little bit higher in the rankings.”
    “I didn’t do my job. They came out and they stepped up, and they did what they needed to do and more — especially last minute. Suni [Lee] didn’t even get to warm up her floor passes until the 30-second touch. So this medal is all of them and the coaches — and it has nothing to do with me, because they did it without me.”

    • And, yes, there is evidence to support her decision, as I pointed out previously. On the vault (an event she has dominated for years), she scored worse than all of her teammates, worse than 20 of the 24 competitors.

    • I repeat, Biles stated that “my twisties” can (however they are defined as they create an inability to perform gymnastics well, or indeed safely) take around two weeks to go away. I heard her say this, if not the exact words — and my hearing is backed up with subtitles these days — in an interview given on the heels of her failure. Next thing I hear is that she is sticking around in case she feels better, then sitting woefully in the stands, then announcing appearing in later rounds, then not. Her one consistency has been to locate live mikes and cameras smack in front of her face.

  4. Are Hill and Golden correct in ascribing an underlying sarcastic intent to this “thought experiment”? Because, IMHO, if Jack is to be taken seriously, he’s presenting a facile, even facetious, conflation of the meanings of the word “team” here. Naeher was trained to perform one specific and crucial function for her team as goalie—not a role for which any other team-member could be easily/effectively substituted. Biles, on the other hand, was primus-inter-pares on her team, much like Ledecky on the swim team—a star but not critical to the functioning of the team-as-a-group (with the obvious exception of the relays). Biles steps back, for perfectly understandable reasons, and Sunisa Lee shines.

    • I don’t know how you can argue that, Howard. There is a team medal in gymnastics (not in swimmming.) The Passwords are “reliance,” “trust,” “pressure” and “stress.” All exactly appropriate in the cases of the goalie and the GOAT.

      • Jack said, “There is a team medal in gymnastics, not in swimming.”
        I think there are other reasons the soccer/gymnastics comparison fails. But, there are individual and team events (and medals) in both sports. The swimming medley relay, for example, is a team event, each of four team members swimming one leg of the event using a different swimming stroke.
        Both events have four team members, but the gymnastics team all-around can be done with three competitors while the medley relay requires four.

      • I feel the same way – I was going to write more but the post is a couple of days old. Canada’s winning goal was from a penalty kick on a questionable call; however, my contention is that the USA women’s team is so good they should have at least scored a goal or two. They were shut out twice (at least twice that is, I don’t know the scores of all games).

        There was a (small) part of me that felt like I shouldn’t root against them but they’ve been so arrogant and disrespectful that I just don’t care for the team as a whole.

        The entire olympics is just a farce to me – it’s supposed to be about showcasing athletic excellence; not a political platform for activists and quitters from the USA.

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