Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Couch Critic, Simone Didn’t Quit

If there’s anything social media has revealed over the last 2 years, it’s that Americans revel in the spectator sport of outside observer criticism. It doesn’t matter if we have any experience or knowledge on a subject. As soon as we watch a TikTok video on something we agree with we decide we have all the information we need to spout off shaming statements to anyone we encounter who has a differing view. Even when the person we’re critiquing has earned a Ph.D. in a subject, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got our 2-5 minutes of unverified information to regurgitate to anyone who will listen.

The spectator sport we’re most proficient in? Shaming professional athletes for “failing” at competitions we couldn’t begin to accomplish in our wildest dreams.

With a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast and is regarded by many to be one of the greatest and most dominant gymnasts of all time. And the spectator critics have the audacity to claim that they are disappointed that she “quit on her team.”

Here’s what the couch critics missed. Simone didn’t quit.

She didn’t walk off the mats, take her gym bag and go home. She stayed right where she was and SHE.CHEERED.HER.TEAMMATES.ON.

Simone realized that in her current mental state, she was risking taking away medals from the entire group and she did what she needed to do to ensure that the other three girls, who trained just as hard, received the honor they deserved.

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
Simone Biles stays and coaches her teammates

Gymnastics scoring is extremely complicated. It’s also very subjective. The thing that couch critics seem to miss about the night Simone withdrew is that if she had kept competing she could have pulled the entire team’s score down so far they would have lost a chance at any medal.  Dan Wetzel explains

(Simone’s) score was dragging down the team. It was .540 below any of her teammates. It was 0.700 below any of the Russians. She was the worst one, by a lot.

It was so low it staked the Russians to a 1.067 lead — a huge number in gymnastics. It’s the kind of gap the Americans would struggle to overcome even if they had Simone Biles at her very best.

“I was like, ‘I am not in the right headspace,’” Biles said. “I am not going to lose a medal for this country and these girls because they’ve worked way too hard to have me go out there and lose a medal.”

But that’s the thing about being a couch critic. We don’t understand the nuances and details that go into each sport. We don’t know the behind-the-scenes conversations, and we NEVER bother to gather all the information. It’s much easier to point out other’s failures than accept that there might be more to the story.

In her famous TedTalk on vulnerability, Brene Brown said, “We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”

Brene also included a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Not only did Simone withdraw, but when her team tried to give her cover she set the record straight. It was announced that Biles had sustained an injury, but Simone was honest. In a press conference she stated:

“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events not believing in myself,” Biles said. “So I thought it was better to take a step back and let these other girls do the job.

“And they did.”

This week I was reminded again that we’re all capable of choosing vulnerability and courage or we can choose the path of the couch critic. There’s only one voice that matters at the end of the day and it’s not the critic who counts.

Simone Has Carried The Weight Of A Country’s Expectations On Her Shoulders for Too Long

Simone Biles has spent the majority of her life learning, training for, and competing in gymnastics. Along the way, she was mentally and sexually abused by her team doctor Larry Nassar. Her coaches, the people who were supposed to advocate for and protect her, turned their backs on the abuse for their own fame and glory. Through these years Simone literally carried the expectations of an entire country on her shoulders as she competed.

This athlete has earned her gold medals. She’s done her part for our country. As a 24-year-old woman she’s gone on to open a gym for girls to train in a sport she loves to ensure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to others. And on top of that, she’s continued to train for an additional year for the Olympics.

Sadly, and I’m sure deeply disappointingly for her, Simone’s mental health got the best of her at the worst time possible. When she was competing on the world’s stage. Have you considered that  Simone understands that there are more important things in life than another medal for herself?

What Simone Biles did this week was vulnerable, brave, and honest. It was necessary for her mental health, and it was what she thought was best for her teammates. As someone who hasn’t been honest enough to ask for help when I’ve needed it, I’m grateful for the example she set for me and for my kids.

While it’s certainly true we don’t have to understand every aspect of something to gather an opinion. I believe it’s been revealed time and again that we’d all be better off pausing to do a bit more research before deciding someone has failed at something we couldn’t accomplish in our wildest dreams. 

In a world where we’re surrounded by failed leaders, Simone is someone I’m grateful for this week.

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