The young woman has already achieved so much. How many more barriers will we ask her to break?
Even fresh off of the Tokyo Olympics, Biles remains as active and important as ever. Yet it’s clear that beyond being one of the most decorated athletes in history, she’s more than just a sports idol to young girls and women.
Biles is remarkable because she’s broken so many barriers, achievements that any regular person would be praised for, much less someone who’s only 24. But rather than celebrate her, we consistently ask Biles to do more, be more — and every single time she steps up and goes beyond.
Black gymnastics pioneer
By now, most of the world is familiar with Biles’ many records broken, medals won and moves pioneered. What she represents is encapsulated in tennis legend Serena Williams’ tribute to the gymnast in TIME:
There’s something poetic about the way Simone Biles moves. She’s a master of precision, grace and dominance, and at the age of just 24, she has cemented herself as one of the most decorated American gymnasts of all time. But when she’s not on the mat or competing in front of the world, Simone strikes the powerful balance between humility and confidence . . . Simone’s athletic achievements are seen once in a lifetime.
What she embodies truly reflects the endless potential of Black women. I wish I had her to look up to when I was younger and trying to realize my dreams.
The new moves she pioneers have been devalued in the points they’ve received from judges, or even docked points, supposedly to discourage other gymnasts from trying them and hurting themselves. Some critics have suggested her participation in competitions is unfair to other gymnasts, where white, male athletes are often celebrated for having exceptional skills.
One of the most powerful pieces of Biles’ legacy is not mentioned in the TIME piece: her dedication to survivors like her, and the honesty and vulnerability with which she’s shared her experiences as a survivor of Larry Nassar. In 2018, Biles shared a statement on social media that read, “Please believe me when I say it was a lot harder to speak those words out loud than it is now to put them on paper. There are many reasons that I have been reluctant to share my story, but I know now that it is not my fault.”
Since coming forward, Biles has testified and spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered on numerous occasions, all in an effort to demand accountability from the systems that harmed her, and create systemic change to protect future generations of athletes.
So, how many barriers does Biles have to break? How much do we have to take from the 24-year-old athlete before we listen to her and enact meaningful change?
Biles’ testimony before the U.S. Senate this past week was a culmination of all that we’ve selfishly and unfairly demanded of her through the years. She must be not just great but exceptional, to compete through the weight of unspeakable trauma, to pave the way for entire generations, to weather endless and interwoven racism and misogyny.
Someday, another young, Black, female athlete won’t have to weather the same degradation, or overcome the same impossible odds to be great — and it will be because of Biles and her sacrifices.