Gold medal gymnast brings mental health into play


Photo courtesy of A Better Way Athletics

In a study by Drexel and Kean universities, 25 percent of college athletes have reported feeling depressed.

Nicole Pacheco, Staff Writer

During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, four-time gold medalist Simone Biles withdrew from her all-around final competition due to mental health issues. Sparking an uproar of online comments, her actions have opened the conversation of mental health in sports. 

Biles, who has won a total of seven medals (four gold, one silver, and two bronze), ties with gymnast Shannon Miller for the most medals.  Fans were anxious to see the athletic powerhouse bring home yet another gold.  With the death of her aunt and the impending Larry Nassar hearing, however, the pressure became too much and on July 28 released a statement announcing her withdrawal noting mental health reasons.

Viewers were both supportive and outraged at the move, but Biles stood by her decision.

“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too,” said Biles in an article by The Associated Press. “We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Despite the withdrawal, Biles did return to compete in the women’s balance beam, winning a bronze medal. Now, months after the Olympic games, Biles’ actions have sparked conversations in all aspects of sports.

“I feel like she could have kept going,” said sophomore football player Malachi Green. “If she would have won then it probably would support her mental health, but at the same time I understand why she dropped out.” 

Bronco cheerleader Emily Kaplan echoed Green’s opinion.

“I think it was smart of her to drop out if she has mental health issues,” sophomore Kaplan added.  “She needs to focus on herself instead. Health is the most important thing.” 

Other athletes such as 23-time gold medalist Michael Phelps spoke out in support of Biles’s actions saying “Its ok to not be ok.” Phelps, who sits on the board of Medibio, a worldwide organization that focuses on mental health issues and is the spokesperson for Talkspace, an online mental health counseling service, is well-known for his battle with depression and ADHD. 

This is not the first time mental health has been cited as an inhibitor to competition. Earlier this year, tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open because of her mental health.  When she refused to do speak with reporters, the organizers of the tennis match fined her $15,000.  Osaka then released a lengthy Instagram statement citing that she has suffered from depression for several years.

The actions of these influential athletes are reforming the way mental health is viewed in sports both on the professional and amateur level. 

According to Athletes for Hope, “Up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression, and anxiety.” 

This also applies to younger players who are driven to do whatever it takes to get to the big leagues, even if that means sacrificing their mental health.

“I personally don’t believe in quitting,” expressed one of Central’s guidance counselor Ms. Mack. “But, if it comes to the point that you feel it is not benefiting your mental health, it might be necessary.” 

With practices and games being physically demanding as well and the requirements of school, there needs to be a balance.

“Students need to focus more on their education and mental health before sports,” Mack continued.  “Most high school athletes spend their four years worrying about whether they will get a scholarship and that can really take a toll in their mental health.” 

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