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Thank You, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, for Showing the Importance of Self-Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde.

Dear Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka: thank you.

I am writing to express my gratitude to you both for being radical about your mental health and self-care. It takes courage to be unafraid to set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and to heal from traumas, both known and unknown, while on the world’s stage. Thank you for giving yourselves permission to be vulnerable and for prioritizing your mental and physical well-being over trophies, medals, endorsements and your athletic success.

For far too long, Black athletes have been forced to choose between their sport and their physical and mental well-being. You’ve been told to win at all costs and penalized when you’ve questioned the status quo. You’re told to “shut up and dribble” even in the face of being denied basic human rights. Society has shown you that you have a duty to perform even in the face of racism, moral conflict, and when you are struggling to maintain your overall health. In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the Army after the Army changed its standards making him eligible for the draft, and he was fined, sentenced to prison and banned from boxing for three years. Nearly 30 years later, a flu-stricken Michael Jordan led the Bulls to a Finals win in 1997. More recently, former Seattle Seahawks Marshawn Lynch was a frequent critic of the media because he believed that they didn’t care about the mental health of athletes. Time and time again, Black athletes have been expected to disregard their overall well-being for the sake of capitalism and the win. It’s time for this practice to end.

Black female athletes in particular must navigate the intersectionality of both patriarchy and white supremacy, which often devalues your place in the world of athletics. Both in your early 20s, it is refreshing to see you saying enough is enough, “I choose me, first.” The decision to withdraw from the French Open and Olympics respectively could come at a great professional cost to you, but thank you for being willing to take that risk anyway.

We see you and we support you.

Thank you for boldly proclaiming and showing the next generation of Black female athletes that it is OK (and necessary) to share and stand firm in your truth. Black women and girls are taught from an early age that we must forfeit our own physical and mental well-being for others. On the cusp of a pandemic, we are facing a mental health crisis in our community and the subject of mental health care is often taboo. Thank you for being at the forefront of shifting this narrative and for affirming for our community that it is OK to walk away from things that are unhealthy and toxic for you.

While it’s easy to talk about your trophies and wins, it can take courage to share your struggles and losses. Understand that neither of you owes us anything. You only owe yourself the opportunity to heal. Thank you for giving a voice to sexual abuse survivors, those who struggle with depression, and for refusing to allow your experiences to be marginalized and swept away. I am thankful that you each had the wisdom to know when to step back and save yourself from further harm.

I have worked myself to my breaking point on a far smaller stage than you and now in my 40s, I wish I’d had the wisdom in my 20s to truly understand the ministry of rest and setting healthy boundaries. Thank you for helping me to feel more empowered in proclaiming my space and for normalizing the need for each of us to assess our own self-care and self-compassion (or lack thereof), and to step away when needed. No medal or trophy is worth more than your inner peace.

Image via YouTube