Statement on Olympian Simone Biles and Mental Health
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the events leading up to it, have been quite unprecedented, but perhaps one of the most shocking pieces of news out of Tokyo has been the fact that Simone Biles, often referred to as the “greatest gymnast of all time,” withdrew from multiple Olympic events in favor of protecting her mental health. While Biles’ decision was initially questioned, many supporters, including The NYSPCC, have commended her on making the difficult choice to put her mental health ahead of her Olympic goals.
Following her Bronze medal win on beams, Biles told Today anchor Hoda Kotb that subconsciously, being the only gymnast (that we know of) wrapped up in Larry Nassar’s abuse to be competing in the Olympics, might have added to the pressure. “Now that I think about it, maybe in the back of my head, probably, yes, because there are certain triggers. You don’t even know, and I think it could have,” she said.
Biles has made it clear that she went to Tokyo not just to compete for medals but to serve as an advocate for her fellow survivors. She knew that having a Nassar survivor on the national team would force USA Gymnastics to continue working to protect younger athletes. Earlier this year, she told Kotb, “I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side”. Though Nassar was convicted in 2018, the survivors of his abuse are still feeling the lasting effects. For Biles, and the countless other athletes whom Nassar violated, moving forward is about so much more than gold medals. It is about ensuring that the survivors’ stories continue to be told so that this horrific child sexual abuse never happens in the sport again.
The NYSPCC is dedicated to protecting all children and young adults from abuse, both physically and mentally, as well as preventing sexual abuse in the sport of gymnastics. In 2018, The NYSPCC, with support from the Athlete Assistance Fund (AAF), spent a year gathering critical information regarding the tragic situation that occurred with Nassar, with the intent of strengthening the safety net for children in sports. The result was the Athletes are Children First Initiative, a comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention training for gymnastics club staff, gymnasts, and parents across the country, and a policy guide supporting club owners and coaches in implementing effective child safety policies and reporting practices in their clubs. The second aspect of the program will be online, on-demand and age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention e-learning modules for gymnasts, and an e-learning module and resources for parents and guardians.
Additionally, to ensure that the issue continues to be reported on and the media has the resources to cover this sensitive topic, The NYSPCC has taken it upon ourselves to author a comprehensive media guide entitled “Tips for Reporting on Child Sexual Abuse During the Olympics”. It is our hope that in having productive and meaningful conversations around past abuse in the sport of gymnastics, and not sweeping it under the rug, real change will occur, and children can simply enjoy the sport as they should.
The NYSPCC understands the importance of perpetuating a safe environment for athletes and prides itself on working towards a better future for all.
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