Simone Bile's withdrawal sparked an uncomfortable conversation about mental health in elite sports

Posted at 10:48 AM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 11:20:00-04

The mental toll on Olympic athletes has been brought to the forefront. USA Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles stepped away from team competition. She said she didn't have any physical injury but left team competition from the pressures of competition.

Biles withdrew from team competition after posting an unusually low vault score. She opened up too quickly and slowed her rotation on her Amanar.

Biles told reporters, "whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out." She decided to withdraw and not "jeopardize my health and well-being."

The conversation around athletes and mental health continues to grow as athletes like Biles and Naomi Osaka step away from certain competitions.

Carrie Bates, a three-time gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, shares her struggles with mental health when she was on the biggest stage of her career.

Bates continued to emphasize that athletes, no matter how much we glamourize them, are still humans.

"I mean we are human beings; first we put our pants on one leg, at a time in the morning, just like everybody else, and we are not immune, you know those three gold medals that I have in the bank in the safety deposit box did not," she said,

Bates watched Biles withdraw from the team portion. Many people were upset, calling the actions selfish, but Bates said she owes us nothing.

"She has given all of us, including her teammates, years and years of joy and notoriety for our USA gymnastics she has given. Her childhood to the country," she said.

The speculation of Bile's injury mounted instantly. Still, Bates said this is because the conversation about mental health effects on athletes makes people uncomfortable, especially among top athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.

"You almost could feel people just wishing that it could be her ankle. Or, something that was just super tangible and when she came out and said physically I'm fine, but if you caught a part of that interview, she also said I hope this, the world will still like me that's the stigma that we're still facing with mental health both mental health," Bates said.

Bates feels people paint an illusion about athletes. They see them as superhuman.

"We don't want to talk about mental health; we don't want to hear that she's struggling that this is too much that she needs to back away and take care of herself. We want people we expect athletes to be superhuman," she said.

But she reminds people that athletes make mistakes too. They aren't perfect.

"Perfection, which doesn't exist; we watched it this morning. Perfection doesn't exist. We watched athletes over the last several days of the Olympics that were favored to win a gold medal, what is silver or bronze," Bates said.

Bates reiterates that the Women's Gymnastics team still won silver. She said winning a medal at the Olympics is still a huge deal. She thinks Bile's courage is what makes her a true champion.

Bates said we might never see Biles in a leotard again, but she finished her career on a high note.

Biles did withdraw from in individual all-around final, according to NBC. Her coaches and staff will monitor and make the call whether she should compete in the event finals.

No matter if Biles competes, Bates said she understands that struggle after dealing with substance use issues.

Bates works with Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The organization with treatment providers in Naples and helps with prevention and recovery from substance abuse.

She will continue to use her platform at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and her social media accounts to advocate for athletes to take care of their mental health first.