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TIME named Simone Biles the 2021 Athlete of the Year.
Why? Well because, to quote the outlet, she had “confusion in her eyes” and was “unsure of her whereabouts in midair.”
So much for elite performance.
TIME isn’t really interested in her athletic skill anyway. It gave Biles the award because she bowed out of team competition at the 2021 Olympics for mental health concerns. TIME quoted Colin Kaepernick to validate its choice. Kaepernick praised Biles’ “grace, eloquence, and courage.”
If Kaepernick says so, it must be true.
Biles’ decision split the country anew. Some called Biles a quitter, while others deemed her a hero. And that’s the issue with TIME naming her Athlete of the Year, a title apparently still of importance.
As I argued at the time, people attacking Biles’ character were grandstanding, but so were those pretending her decision was an act of heroism. Both sides pandered, a word that precisely describes what TIME had done.
At the Olympics, Simone Biles should have done whatever was in her best interest. And she says she did. However, that does not make her the top athlete of 2021.
The sports world has weaponized mental health like it has weaponized racism, turning it into a conversation-stopper to separate one team from the other, the good guys and the bad.
Meanwhile, some athletes have used mental health to excuse their poor behavior.
In July, WNBA player Liz Cambage blamed her mental state for getting into a physical altercation and violating COVID protocols, and this past summer, NFL cornerback Richard Sherman blamed his mental health for his actions after police arrested him on charges of burglary and domestic violence. The media gave both Cambage and Sherman a pass, even though their behavior was worse than what Biles did at the Olympics.
Do you see what’s going on here? Sports pundits and athletes have calculated that they can use mental health for protection and social gain.
Fox News’ Will Cain put it well:
“Mental health is a real thing. We have to focus on mental health. But it’s also become this total ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. …Eh, no one can question it. Listen to the language we’ve adopted.”
Biles contributed to that cause. So the media has aggressively rewarded Biles for her efforts. As a result, Biles is now “Athlete of the Year,” edging out athletes like Tom Brady, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Rodgers, Connor McDavid, and Nikola Jokić.
TIME’s blurb about Biles reveals much of this ulterior motive. It hardly mentions her athletic performance in 2021, suggesting that she actually won the award for not competing:
“Experts agree that especially for young black women, Biles’ actions were a signal that it’s acceptable to claim agency over both their minds and their bodies. Since the days of slavery, says LaNail Plummer, a therapist who specializes in providing mental health services to back and LGBTQ communities in the D.C. area, the bodies of black women have been subject to fetishization: for purposes of labor, reproduction or athletic entertainment. Throughout their careers, for example, tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams have been the targets of racist and sexist comments because of their appearances. ‘Our bodies have always been under scrutiny,’ says Plummer. ‘Oftentimes, black women are not given the freedom to be able to just be authentic. Oftentimes, they have to be what somebody asked them or designed for them to be.'”
Wait, what do Biles’s race and gender have to do with any of this? Nothing. That’s the point.
Simone Biles is a very talented athlete, but she isn’t the athlete of the year. She is, however, TIME’s Athlete of the Year awardee because of her race and gender and her grace, eloquence and courage. That is according to TIME itself.