Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Simone Biles

I don't follow gymnastics, but she is certainly talented, and seems a decent enough person. I think her decision to remove herself was probably wise.  Her routine includes moves that others can't do and are considered at the edge of what is safe to perform. If she lacks complete confidence so that anxiety is not merely a bad feeling but an active interference in completion of vaults, she may be endangering herself. Some events are like that, such as various skiing events or the pole vault.  You could damage your head badly. I have nothing against her for assessing the situation and believing her danger was too great, even for a gold medal.

The response to her decision interests me. She is being called brave for doing this. It is socially brave, as she will endure criticism and contempt for it. We are social creatures, and that does mean something. Yet unless complete ostracism or banishment were on the line, most of us would find such criticism endurable. There would be a cost, but I have been criticised before. It is likely significant that as an athlete, her job is to be an entertainer, though we don't often characterise it that way. Therefore, she would be more sensitive to social losses and take them harder. She lives in the fishbowl. That has been true for athletes for years.

Though that cost has been increasing over the years, I think it has skyrocketed recently, and the young in particular might rate social courage higher than those who are older, who might rate physical, financial, or even spiritual danger much higher.  I'm not saying she's not brave. It's just that I frame this more as a wisdom decision.  The social cost is there, but I think my generation would not be so alarmed by it.


Texan99 said...

"Brave" is one of those words that's steadily losing its meaning in popular circles. These days it mostly just means unbad by the flimsy standards of the day.

Christopher B said...

Her supporters will, and often do, object to the criticism as coming from people who are either biased or unqualified to critique her decision.

Again, enduring such criticism is an odd sort of bravery.

Grim said...

She is, as she says, the best; she is, therefore, best qualified to judge. This is a genuinely Aristotelian point. EN 1.3: "Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge."

dmoelling said...

The Olympics have created a monster in the craving for fame and fortune via minor sports (i.e. not professional). Biles and others were sent by eager parents to live away from home at an early age and focus entirely on the olympics. They have all the same risks as Child actors of sexual and personal abuse. This goes down to even less well known sports.

Time to end this for good.

Aggie said...

Gymnastics is a unique team sport, with purely individual aspects - there is no team effort, but an aggregate of individual performances leading to a team result. This may be why Biles is attracting a lot of attention, at least partly. The people who watch gymnastics are already focused on individuals.

She's made her choice based on her own self-assessment, but she's left herself open to criticism - by applying the "GOAT" to her leotards, and by waiting until the team had assembled in Tokyo and started the competition,by continuing to compete semi-professionally at a mature age (for gymnasts). Now pride enters into the conversation, rightly or wrongly.

Finally, we are in an era of athletic celebrity harvesting; people taking knees and moaning about pay-scales and so forth, using their athletic achievements to draw attention away from the team effort and toward themselves and their pet grievances. People have generally been turned off by this, and the numbers prove it.

Biles hasn't done anything wrong, but her timing and this era she is living in will mean that she suffers some collateral grief and maybe even some unfair criticism from things left to interpretation. I wish her well, but she probably should stop competing.

HMS Defiant said...

I disagree. The time to address your mental health is not after you wiped the floor with the competition at home and moved off to the international stage to represent your country. The military has always had a word for people who fold under pressure...even before it is applied.
NO, not brave.

Narr said...

I've never thought of athletes as exemplifying some abstract "bravery", nor do I think there is any abstract "pressure" under which individuals fold. There's too much variation in human capacities and limitations, both physical and psychological, for me to try to judge La Biles or any other competitor. (Maybe not caring about the contest helps me do that.)

I avoid the high-dive, but I've been in some threatening situations and reacted very calmly and effectively. Is 'bravery' a useful concept for sorting those experiences?

Cousin Eddie

james said...

I'm not brave.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I saw the title and would not even watch it. I can't even look at those still photographs of people out on ledges while climbing mountains.