LOS ANGELES, CA – The press is predictably singing the praises of Simone Biles, Olympic women’s gymnastics team captain, for her shocking withdrawal from competition. The New Yorker praised the “radical courage of Simone Biles,” calling her decision “a welcome example of an athlete setting her own limits.” The New York Times noted approvingly that she was “widely embraced as the latest active, elite athlete who had the courage to acknowledge her vulnerability.”
Just a moment here, please. This highly experienced young woman has “GOAT” embroidered on all her leotards. She is American team captain, a position of great honor and responsibility. She has been admirably vocal in saying she was staying around to ensure the safety and well-being of her teammates in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the sport, but her job was much more than that. She was meant to lead her team.
What much of the world saw on TV was an unbelievably gifted athlete having a bad day. Viewers watched Simone’s uncharacteristic stumble on the vault and subsequent lowest American score in the rotation. Very shortly afterward, she withdrew, though there was some discussion she might still compete in the individual events. There has been a recent flurry of discussion about balance and ear issues, but it looked like someone who couldn’t handle losing.
Thankfully, she also withdrew from competing individually… as if her mental health troubles and unbearable pressure only affect certain kinds of competition and not others. A millennial unaccustomed to losing… lost… and walked off her team. I and many other Americans saw a quitter, the most un-American trait imaginable. I wonder what MyKayla Skinner, who placed fifth and did not compete, thought of that.
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Does anybody remember Jeremy Lin, a Harvard grad player for the New York Knicks who was so permanently on the bench that he was unknown by team security when he showed up for practice? For a brief, shining moment a decade ago, everything he touched turned gold. He was outscoring Kobe Bryant, sinking last minute three point shots, and his team won every game he started in. Complete insanity took over NYC… briefly. But for a few moments he was the most famous basketball player in the world.
Lin was highly touted in that season’s All-Star game, where his luck finally ran out against the toughest of the tough competition. His play was undistinguished, but Lin didn’t quit. He finished the tournament, returned to the Knicks and eventually sank back into relative obscurity. But what a story it had been! And when it ended, he remained as humble, gracious and hardworking as he had been during the sheer madness of his brief reign.
Jeremy Lin is the perfect example of Asian “stoicism.” Wish there was a little more of that to go around these days. Oh but wait – an Asian-American gymnast of Hmong descent stepped up when Simone stepped back. Sunisa Lee won the individual completion – the first all-around the first Asian American Olympic champion ever. Go team!
We need more winners and stories of perseverance, not quitters.