G.O.A.T. U.S. gymnast Simone Biles has opted out of the team and individual all-around competitions at the Tokyo Olympic Games to focus on her mental well being. Recently, tennis star Naomi Osaka decided she would not take part in any press conference at the French Open saying she wanted to focus on her mental health. Let’s leave Brittany Spears out for now.
Both Biles and Osaka sparked outrage AND empathy for their actions. Outrage from those who believe they were being selfish, self centered snowflakes. Empathy and praise from those who believe we must all be the best advocates for our own well being.
Both women have demonstrated extaordinary resilience and physical and mental toughness in their rise to the top of their sports. Both women have benefitted from positive images carefully developed in the media over their careers.
And both women have suffered years of praise and abuse under the microscope of social media. There lies the rub.
While most of us growing up learned some coping skills through organized sports and other school competitiions, we do not have to constantly deal with the high expectations and tremendous public attention faced by these two women and other sports figures and celebrities. Yes, many of them bring it on themselves by seeking the attention and pushing for more followers on social media to fatten their bank accounts. But do they really realize what living with all the attention they seek does to their well being?
Doubtful. The demands placed on them can be soul crushing if they cannot find ways to escape and cope. It isn’t simply a symptom of the snowflake, safe places, ‘everybody gets a ribbon’ culture.
It is a result of the ‘always on’, ‘reality show’ lifestyle that is ever more prevalent with fame in today’s social media environment.
Are these women snowflakes? After all, to get to this level, you have dealth with adversity and risen to the occasion multiple times before. Can’t you just do it again?
Or are these women brave? It takes a lot of courage to take yourself out of the spotlight at the pinnacle of your career, knowing the critcism that will undoubtedly be piled on you.
Perhaps they are both. Snowflakes only because they have not been taught enough about how to deal with the perpetual stress of high expectations and extreme exposure to both your fans and detractors. Brave souls because they have been smart enough and self aware enough to understand when something just isn’t right. They were in tune enough to make a change before they risked crashing and burning.
There are big names who have been less fortunate, and there will be others who hit that wall. It’s time for coaches, teachers, trainers, and managers to catch up and begin to put as much emphasis on coping skills and mental health as they do on physical and performance skills.
Young airmen at Warren and elsewhere, who deal with nuclear weapons day in and day out are regularly evaluated using the mental stability standards established in the Air Force Nuclear Personnel Reliability Program-PRP. They are not famous people and are discouraged from using social media much. Maybe the Air Force model should be adapted and used for others as part of their education, coaching, and training processes. Understanding your own mental condition and ways to handle life’s stresses, whether self inflicted or not, needs to become a more significant part of our learning.