Gymnastics is, for those who may not know, a very high-impact sport. You experience all kinds of broken bones and difficult sprains. Gymnastics isn't for the weak; yet, that's what Simone Biles was called after withdrawing from Olympic competitions this past week. She made it abundantly clear that she was struggling with "twisties," due to her mental health. To be clear, twisties is a scary state of disassociation that hinders athletes from successfully competing in a skill event. The risk of serious injury increases. So, could you really blame Biles for choosing not to put herself in harms way?
Biles is widely regarded as the greatest gymnast in the history of sport. The book about women’s gymnastics could very well be the autobiography of Biles -- that’s how dominant she's been. In 2016, she became the first female U.S. gymnast to win four gold medals at a single games. She became the first gymnast to win three straight world all-around titles. In her first world championship, she became the first African-American woman to claim the title -- again, it was her first time. As recently as the 2019 World Championships, she became the first gymnast in over six decades to win five gold medals. The accomplishments of a weak quitter? Yeah, right.
Mental health should be taken very seriously, and with grace. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults have anxiety disorders, and 5-percent of American adults suffer from regular depression. Translation: tens of millions of American adults suffer from regular depression. When it comes to overall mental illness, over a quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
It's easy to pile on and call someone a quitter. But Biles is human, struggling on the world stage -- something we've never seen from her before. She deserves compassion and understanding. This is an individual who's been at the absolute top of their sport, and people have the nerve to call her a quitter. A quitter is someone who walks off the floor when a play doesn’t go their way. A quitter is someone who walks off the bench and pouts their way toward the locker room when things regress. A quitter isn't someone who's forthright about an issue out of their control.
Anybody who's criticized Biles for being a quitter or weak has never spent a minute of their life with her. She's overcome challenges that no child should ever endure. Did you know that her biological father walked out on the family? Did you know that her biological mother turned to drugs and alcohol?
We really need to be careful about how careless we are with words, and how baseless we are with judgments. When an athlete is severely physically injured, we don't plead with them to continue competing and potentially hurt themselves further. We have common sense, and realize that physical injuries can be exacerbated. We need to be just as vigilant and respectful to those who deal with mental health issues. The only thing that needs to quit regarding Biles is the false narrative that she's anything but a champion.
CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.