Human first, athlete second


Lexie Bordenkecher, editor

Mental health has always been important, but it is quite commonly forgotten about in athletes.

This summer, one of the biggest cases of putting mental health first was displayed, and the media showed its true colors. When Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, had to step out of the Olympic gymnastics team competition, she was ripped to shreds on certain platforms.

Headlines were calling her “selfish” and saying that she “gave up” on her team. Similar words were said when Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka, withdrew from the French Open back in early July due to mental health concerns.

In Biles’ case, had she not withdrawn, she could have seriously injured herself. She took to social media to explain that she was experiencing the “twisties”. This is a sensation where gymnasts cannot distinguish between the floor and the ceiling, and they lose their ability to judge where they are in the air. She also posted a video of her practicing her bar dismount, and landing flat on her back.

What the media doesn’t seem to understand, is that if she would have competed and was still experiencing these mental blocks, Biles’ could’ve had a career-ending injury. 

Many athletes go through the same issues with anxiety and depression as a normal person. The only difference being that their issues are put on display for the whole world to see. And on top of that, they are called “weak” and “selfish”.

In the past decade, there has been a lot of progress made regarding the willingness of athletes to share their stories. In 2014 Michael Phelps opened up about going to a therapist for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. He went on to compete in the 2016 Olympics and become the most decorated Olympian in history.

In 2019, Indianapolis’ own Andrew Luck spoke about his struggles with mental health, which was a crucial part of his decision to retire at age 29. Another Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, shared her experience with not only mental health struggles, but the sexual abuse she experienced in the USA Gymnastics organization, and the trauma that came with that. 

It’s easy to forget that these incredible athletes are humans first. They go through so many of the same things that we do, but they don’t have the luxury of dealing with them in private. The media needs to do better, and so do we. Hopefully the next time a high profile athlete has to take a step back, they are met with grace and acceptance.