Athletes are Human Beings, not Commodities

Even though these elite athletes seem superhuman, they require time to care for themselves just like any other person.

Star gymnast Simone Biles received criticism for withdrawing from several events during this year’s Olympics in order to preserve her mental health. Her position as a high-profile competitor with wildly high expectations placed on her is clearly a stressful one. At age 24, the record-breaking gymnast, who is also a vocal activist as a sexual assault survivor probably has several aspects of her life that would jeopardize her mental health. It’s completely understandable that she would need rest and heal herself, so she does not owe us any explanation.

If someone takes time to themselves, you respect them and their wishes. Earlier this year, Naomi Osaka removed herself out of the French Open to preserve her mental well-being. Michael Phelps is another outspoken advocate for mental health after battling depression and suicidal thoughts towards the end of his swimming career. 

It’s entirely understandable for athletes to feel overwhelmed. Every minor stumble is broadcasted for the whole country to see. It’s spread rapidly over social media— where countless users weigh in on scenarios that they have no real knowledge of. These athletes are followed around by cameras, even after they leave the playing field. Each of their mistakes are highlighted, then repeated and slowed down several times for millions, if not, billions of viewers. 

Often, it feels like celebrities are oversimplified. Audiences expect them to be constantly performing. Sports are a part of an athlete’s job – not their entire identity. Athletes, like any other living being, should be allowed to take time to themselves. They should be allowed to compete on their own terms without facing criticism. 

More than that, they should be respected for valuing their own well-being and setting a positive example for their viewers. Athletes should be applauded for setting boundaries, as they help to dismantle the dangerous “warrior culture” which runs rampant in sports— encouraging players to fight through and ignore their pain even though it may be detrimental in the future. They should be admired for emphasizing the importance of self-reflection and self-care – values I think we all could benefit from. 

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