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Simone Biles And The Media’s Celebration Of Choking

There is nothing wrong with Biles choosing not to compete, but it doesn’t make her special and the incident certainly doesn’t reveal a “superhumanity.”


It’s not a crime to choke under pressure but when did it become something to admire with deep reverence?

After U.S. Olympian Simone Biles dropped out of not one but two games this week, events that she and her peers have been training their entire lives for, the response from the national media has been to effusively cheer and pay homage to the power and bravery of giving up.

And make no mistake, much or most of the celebration for Biles’ backdown is because she happens to be black.

It’s not enough for the media to say, “Gee, it’s too bad she quit and hopefully she works out her problems,” but they have to herald her as a trailblazer because it makes liberal journalists feel good to pity (i.e. look down on) others, particularly when it comes to race.

“A different kind of pressure follows Black women who achieve in traditionally White spaces,” wrote Washington Post sports reporter Candace Buckner. “If they’ve had a realist for a mother, since childhood they’ve heard the refrain they’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as much. And if they spent two seconds in America, then they know that mama was right.”

She said the lesson of Biles’ abrupt withdrawal should be in “letting Black women be great without carrying a deeper narrative.”

MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson similarly observed that Biles “is not just an athlete. She is not just one of the best athletes in the world. She’s also a black woman athlete.”

Jackson’s guest, sports writer Kavitha Davidson, nodded along thoughtfully and bemoaned “the pressure on black women to be 100 percent perfect all the time.”

(When you work in the national media, you’re allowed to invent new racial stereotypes and concepts at will.)

Davidson said Biles is “literally carrying the weight of an entire country on her shoulders and probably an entire sport, and that weighs a lot.”

Eren Orbey of the New Yorker was in awe at the “radical courage” it took for Biles to see herself out of the games. He called it “its own kind of achievement.”

Remember that the next time you’re given an assignment on a tight deadline at work. Should you feel that the pressure is too much, walk out and remind yourself that that in itself is “its own kind of achievement.”

There is of course nothing wrong with Biles choosing not to compete. It’s very literally her neck on the line each time she hurls and twists her body into the air. She said she was sitting the games out not for physical injury but because “the mental is not there.”

Fair enough! Plenty of people cave under pressure. Very few of them will know pressure like the Olympics. Biles certainly didn’t seem to think much of it, even referring to herself after withdrawing the first time as “the head star of the Olympics.”

But choking doesn’t make Biles special. And the incident certainly doesn’t reveal a “superhumanity,” as a headline in New York magazine asserted. That remains true even though Biles is black.

No one in America interested in the Olympics expects anything more or less than that she do our country proud. If someone like Kavitha Davidson believes there’s some added responsibility on black women to be “100 percent perfect all the time,” that’s something she might raise with a therapist, rather than project it on the rest of the nation.

Biles is an undeniably gifted athlete. She choked. It should be very easy to celebrate one and not the other, even though Biles is black.