Op/Ed

Ways of seeing: The GOAT takes care of her health

I can’t get enough of young Black female athletes standing up to powerful forces in the media, in their athletic organizations, and everywhere else. My generation of women and marginalized genders has had it up to here with being bullied by coaches, teachers, sports commentators, and the public at large.

I watched when gymnast Kerri Strug competed after a severe injury in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. I remember feeling bewildered by the praise heaped upon Strug’s coaches, who, if memory serves, were said to be “strict and perfectionist” not “abusive and controlling.”

Of course these were the same coaches who conveniently failed to notice when Larry Nassar spent 25 years abusing hundreds of gymnasts and other athletes who came to him for medical help with their sports injuries. Many of the victims were little girls whose parents were right there in the room. A prosecutor called Nassar “possibly the most prolific serial child sex abuser in history.” Simone Biles was one of his many victims.

So it is heartwarming to see this athlete, who has been through so much in her young life, use her wisdom and courage to speak up for herself. She is a Black woman, so who else will speak up for her? Who is speaking up for Black women when they (despite being the highest educated of any demographic in the U.S.) are more likely to die in childbirth, live in poverty, or be victims of violence in their homes than white women?

I love to see Simone Biles tweet out that “the outpouring of love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” I want to shout, “Yes Simone Biles! While your gymnastic achievements are stunning and unprecedented, you are more than that! You are more because you are a person with a mind, a heart, a soul, a history, and ancestors who love you. All of us are more than our accomplishments and awards, even celebrities!” (And side note to all of us regular, non-medal-winning people: we are also more than our mistakes and failures. We are human beings who do good things sometimes and also cause harm.)

And speaking of causing harm, Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz tweeted that unlike gymnast Kerri Strug, who competed while injured, Biles is “a national embarrassment.” No, sorry, Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz, but you are the national embarrassment. The days of bullying young women to compete while injured, for your entertainment, are over. And so are the days where you can use your platform to slander and demean a Black woman for standing up for herself.

As the brilliant writer Rebecca Solnit noted, athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are showing young women everywhere the power of setting boundaries, the wisdom of looking out for one’s own mental and physical health, and the beauty of the word “No.” As a former young woman myself, and as a parent of a young woman today, I couldn’t wish for better role models for us all.

Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Joanna lives with her family in Ripton. When not practicing or teaching yoga, Joanna enjoys cuddling her cat, cooking, serving on the board of WomenSafe, and working with the Middlebury chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Feedback welcome at: joanna@ottercreekyoga.com

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