Olympics and Athletes’ Health

Simone Biles, currently the most decorated American gymnast, withdrew from team finals in the Tokyo Olympic Games citing her mental health, earning ire from pundits all over the internet. Granted, there are those who side with her decision, but Biles continues to face criticism from those who feel that she should have “toughed it out”.

Taylor Crabb, beach volleyball player, also withdrew from competition after testing positive for SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Although vaccinated and testing negative on departure to Tokyo, he tested positive on Sunday after arrival. And continued to test positive on subsequent days without demonstrating any symptoms – and withdrew within hours of the deadline for the US submission of their roster (Thursday, four days later). Note that Crabb’s withdrawal is entirely voluntary – he wasn’t forced out, he could’ve taken the risk that he would test negative by the time competition rolled around. But he didn’t face the kind of anger that he should’ve taken the chance – he was, in fact, more lauded as a hero.

Our reactions to these two situations, both of which are withdrawals from teams based on health situations, speak a lot more about the attitudes as spectators rather than the athletes themselves. Biles, an African American woman, is not expected to be in charge of her destiny. Crabb is accorded not only an expectation of autonomy, but the sympathy of victimhood.

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