By Ken Reed

Simone Biles is on the cover of Time magazine for being named “Athlete of the Year.” That’s not surprising. The surprise is why she received that honor.

Going into the Tokyo Olympic Games, Biles was a big favorite to win multiple gold medals. She didn’t do that. In fact, she barely participated in the Games.

Physically she was fine. But mentally she was struggling.

While performing high above the vault one day in Tokyo, Biles suddenly got a case of the “twisties,” a situation in which a gymnast loses his/her whereabouts during a gymnastics exercise. Shortly thereafter, Biles withdrew from her next four events. She told her teammates she wouldn’t be able to participate with them in the team event.

Impressively, Biles embraced her vulnerability in Tokyo and talked openly to a world-wide audience about her mental health struggles.

As Alice Park and Sean Gregory write in the Time cover story article, “Biles’ assuredness in speaking her truth and taking ownership of her fate offered permission for athletes and non-athletes alike to talk more openly about challenges they’d once kept to themselves.”

Biles, along with other elite athletes like Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps, and Kevin Love, who publicly talked about their mental health struggles in recent months, demonstrated how athletes can be role models in ways beyond their athletic accomplishments in the athletic arena.

Olympic track star Allyson Felix believes Biles will be a stronger role model for young people like her daughter Camryn now that she’s put her mental health first.

“To see her choose herself, we’re going to see the effects of that for the next generation,” says Felix, who became the most decorated female track-and-field athlete of all time in Tokyo. “When thinking about role models for Cammy, wow, here is someone showing you can choose your mental health over what the world says is the most important thing.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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