Well, the last on Ethics Alarms, anyway, I hope. I wish I could justify not dealing with the “rest of the story,” but I can’t: too much metaphorical ink has been spilled here, there and everywhere over this annoying Ethics Train Wreck.
To bring you up to date, Biles returned to Olympics competition on the balance beam today (well today in Japan) and did well enough to win the bronze medal. She performed back handsprings, flips, split leaps and a double back flip for her dismount, but it was a safe routine not calculated to win. She did not, for example, dismount with the signature move named after her.
What’s going on here? Damned if I know. After debating a number of Biles defenders and reading the relentless spin being offered up by the mainstream media, it is clear to me, at least, that whatever Biles did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, these people would stick to the established compassionate narrative. Biles, meanwhile, would follow a scripted effort to salvage some of her value as a celebrity cash cow after an Olympics disaster that would have sunk any similarly acclaimed male athlete, and most female ones.
Here’s how the New York Times began its story about Biles, the Greatest Of All Time, aka GOAT, not being able to be better than the third best in a single Olympics gymnastics event:
“Simone Biles didn’t want her Olympics, and perhaps her career, to end with her in the stands and not on the competition floor. It couldn’t end that way, after all, considering everything she had sacrificed to make it to the Tokyo Games. She suffered through years of self-doubt as a sexual abuse survivor after realizing that Lawrence G. Nassar, the longtime U.S. national team doctor, had molested her. And she had endured an extra year of training on aching muscles and painful ankles and dealing with U.S.A. Gymnastics, the entity that failed to prevent her abuse.”
Such shameless framing of an elite athlete’s failure in order to ensure minimal accountability has surely never appeared in print before in a reputable publication. Did any account of Babe Ruth failing to come through for his team in a big game ever begin with a reference to his traumatic upbringing in a shabby Baltimore orphanage? Was Ty Cobb excused for attacking a fan during a game because of the trauma he suffered when learning about the tragic death of his father? [ Notice of Correction: In the original post, I wrote that Cobb’s father had committed suicide, which is what I thought I knew. I was wrong, and should have checked. I apologize for putting more misinformation into the web. Much thanks to LoSonnambulo for alerting me.] No, because the various traumas and tragedies athletes have suffered on their way to triumphs, celebrity, fame, and wealth are irrelevant to their performance in their chosen sports—except for Simone Biles.
In addition, in order to turn an extremely unheroic performance on the big stage of the Olympics into a laudable one, we have now seen a media propaganda redefine “mental health.” Now, thanks to the Biles PR avalanche, failures of character under stress are mental health episodes, and criticizing the athletes involved is the equivalent of blaming sick people for being sick.
Also in the Times piece:
“Her beam final ended her roller coaster of an Olympics, which will be remembered for her decision to withdraw from the team final, and for emphasizing the often overlooked importance of mental health in elite sports. Biles said she wouldn’t change anything about these Tokyo Games because it gave her a chance to talk about that issue.”
Does anyone believe that? That statement is signature significance: nobody who should be believed about anything says something that obviously untrue….especially since Biles was repeatedly ambiguous and inarticulate when talking about “that issue.”
The Times goes into great detail about how thoroughly Biles was checked and examined before competing on the balance beam, as if this proves that she was in the throes of a dangerous mental or emotional malady other than the common human experience of “losing one’s nerve.” No, this was simply self-preservation on the part of U.S. Gymnastics. As Jason Whitlock had noted earlier, if Biles was seriously injured after the “twisties” narrative, they would face devastating liability.
- It seems to me that Biles’ competing on the balance beam shows that she suffered from a very selective variety of “the twisties.” It didn’t affect her sense of location all the time, just in the most difficult maneuvers, and in other events.
- Biles competed in the balance beam not to win, but to show up. You can call that courage if you like. I call it public relations repair work.
- Will a bronze medal be sufficient to preserve Biles’ income as a product endorser and a corporate pitchwoman? We shall see. It never has been enough before, but pulling out of competition, abandoning one’s team and complaining about the pressure of high level sports has never been repackaged as virtuous and admirable before.
- Anyone who continues to call Biles the GOAT should be mocked and told to stop abusing the English Language, not to mention history and logic. Those who deserve to be called “the greatest” don’t cave to pressure, complain about stress, or finish third. Olga Korbut, Nadia Comenecci and Mary-Lous Retton didn’t fold during the Olympics. They were champions.
- Perhaps the most discouraging take-away from the Biles mess is how hypocritical 21st Century feminism is, and how easily women accept the benefits of perceived weakness, delicacy, and vulnerability. Biles has been treated like a child throughout the episode, because she is small, adorable, and female. Our brave feminist warriors want to be treated like equals, unless it is to their advantage not to be.