Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka Prove Black Girls Are Magic (but We Are Human Too)
Black girls are magic. But, we are human too. This past Tuesday morning, alongside my daughters, I watched Hoda Kotb tearfully break the news that Simone Biles was withdrawing from USA Olympics gymnastics team completion. My youngest daughters, ages 4 and 7, are gymnasts. We stand for Simone Biles. She is a leader both on and off the mat. I wept as along with Hoda, praying that Simone had not sustained a physical injury.
As more information was released, we learned that Biles had withdrawn from competition in an effort to prioritize and preserve her mental health. At 24, Biles is the senior athlete on the USA Women’s gymnastics team and an international phenomenon. By all accounts, she is the greatest gymnast in our lifetime. During her press conference, she stated that Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open had given her the courage to focus on her own mental health. She continued by saying she had withdrawn from the gymnastics team final at the Summer Olympics to “focus on my mental health” and “not jeopardize my health and well-being.”
My therapist told me once that if something costs me my mental or physical health, it’s simply not worth it. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves permission to walk away from things that are not serving our physical or mental health.
USA Gymnastics has been rocked by sex abuse scandals in recent years. It’s been five years since hundreds of women publicly came forward to accuse former National team doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexual assault. Biles is among his survivors and she has openly discussed how this abuse impacted her mental health.
In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography and other charges. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an additional 40 to 175 years for multiple counts of sexual assault of minors. Although his predatory behavior had been reported for many years to authorities, his abuse of power went back decades. Biles is the last Nassar sexual abuse survivor on the USA Gymnastics team. She is committed to creating safe spaces for future gymnasts.
As a parent and Black woman living with anxiety, I am so proud of Biles and Osaka for prioritizing their mental health and for their continued calls for accountability within their respective sports. The emotional labor of being a Black woman can be taxing as we are expected to simply push through. We are sometimes expected to be superhuman. For many years, the discussion of one’s mental health in the Black community has been taboo. This generation of Black athletes are holding healthy boundaries for themselves and for their respective sports. They are boldly proclaiming their space and it’s beautiful to see athletes like Naomi and Simone saying “enough is enough” and choosing their health first.
Simone and Naomi are Black girl magic.
I believe Simone is undisputedly the greatest gymnast of all time. But, she is also human. Thank you, Simone and Naomi, for continuing to lead and continuing to be advocates for change. My hope is that you are creating a safer atmosphere for future athletes like my daughters.
If you find that you are struggling with your mental health, I recommend the following:
1. Set healthy boundaries. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence.
2. Give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs first. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
3. Seek therapy. This is a game-changer. Therapy has helped me to process my thoughts and to identify areas of my life that have been out of balance. It’s also a judgment-free zone.
4. Ask for help when you need it.
5. Walk away and release things that don’t serve you well.
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