I’m struck by two big news stories this week and how they reflect and refract each other, one in DC and the other in Tokyo.
“Quitting is the new winning” is a comment I read in response to the recent spate of iconic women athletes dropping out of competitions to tend to their mental health: most recently and prominently, Simone Biles, considered the best gymnast ever, and Naomi Osaka, the top-seeded tennis player and highest paid female athlete. The comment was intended as a slur but to many of us inspired by these recent actions, it’s a triumph of its own, requiring honesty, courage, humility and self awareness. It takes all of those attributes to acknowledge when mental health concerns: anxiety or depression or a feeling of being overwhelmed or disregulated – need to be addressed, whether you’re in the public eye or not, and when even the most competitive of athletes needs to step back. Biles was inspired by Osaka, and hopefully millions of young girls as well as people of all ages and backgrounds will be inspired as well to put their own mental health front and center, to have the awareness and fortitude to take care of themselves.
At the other end of the spectrum, lacking all of those admirable attributes is the former guy, our last President, who incited the January 6 insurrection, at its core the outgrowth of refusing to quit and accept the fact that someone else was the winner. His lack of even a modicum of grace and decency to step aside was the complete inversion of the women athletes, showing dishonesty, cowardice, hubris and an utter lack of self-awareness. Listening to the hearings is bone-chilling.
Watching Olympiads on the other hand is spine tingling. As commercial as it is I’ve always been a sucker for the Olympics, although not in the rah rah Go USA patriotic way, but in how it is ostensibly a global event, and even though certain countries that pour the most money and resources into their teams tend to win the most medals, there are upsets and underdogs that make for some moving stories. Hidilyn Diaz, the 121 pound Filipino woman who lifted 500 pounds to win the gold in weightlifting, a first for her country; Triathlete Flora Duffy’s first place finish, making Bermuda the smallest country to win the gold.
And while Simone Biles, on the surface, is the mirror opposite of an underdog – she is one of the faces of the Olympics, the athlete most expected to bring home first place wins – she’s been just as inspiring. How hard it must have been to admit to how she felt, to turn on its head the saying “take one for the team” exemplified by Kerri Strug, the Olympian best remembered as the gymnast who vaulted onto an injured ankle, seen at the time as an act of bravery and patriotism and in retrospect as masochistic foolhardiness: 18 year old Strug never competed again. Biles, taking care of herself, will most likely regain her brilliance. She will compete again and win.
And so might the other guy, the former President. The one who did a number on the mental health of millions of Americans, regular, uniconic folks like myself and most of the people I know, who felt bereft and despondent that such a monomaniac could inspire so many people in victory and defeat. That the Big Lie could embolden so many deluded followers to violent action, and even more who defend them or deny the wrongdoing.
I’m hoping that even more are captivated by the grace and grit of the women athletes. Go team go. Let’s all take care of ourselves.