We struggle. We fall. We get up. On International Women’s Day, Simone Biles told Laureus how speaking up can break down barriers between athletes like her and the young women who follow them
Simone Biles has spoken up on the mental barrier that forced her out of competition during the Tokyo Olympics; she has spoken up about foster care; she has spoken up about ADHD. And now she is speaking up about … speaking up.
Talking in the build-up to the Laureus World Sports Awards, the three-time winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award believes that people can find it difficult to relate to elite athletes when all they see of their heroes are the seemingly superhuman feats they perform in the sporting arena. However, Biles has observed that when those same athletes opt to use their platforms to discuss issues that are personal to them, that perception can change in an instant.
“Having a platform has given me a lot of opportunities,” Biles told Laureus.com. “And it has given me confidence to speak out for what I believe in. At the very beginning, people were like, ‘Simone, you have to speak out, because people will listen and they will relate’. Because a lot of the time, fans feel like they can’t relate to athletes. They see us doing stuff that is out of the ordinary, that doesn’t seem normal to them, even if it does to us. But when we speak out on certain topics, they have that sense of, ‘Oh, I’m just like them. They’re normal. We can relate to each other’.
“Using my platform has given me that relatability. I think that’s really special, that people can go to my platforms and be like, ‘She is just like us – she struggles with this, she stands up for this’.”
On International Women’s Day, Biles is determined that young women and girls see in her story elements that they may connect with personally.
“I am very active in the foster care community [Biles and her siblings spent time in foster care]. I am very straightforward-speaking about mental health, anxiety, about ADHD [she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child], about some things I go through that a lot of people in the world go through, so they can relate, and that is special.
“They [fans] put these athletes on a pedestal, but that is it. There is no relatable content. Now they see elite athletes opening up about mental health, or having kids and coming back to sport, or going through IVF. They are like, ‘they are just like us’.”
Biles won the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2017, 2019 and 2020, and she recalled being taken aback by the occasion of her first win. In 2017, the Awards were presented at a glamorous event in Monaco, hosted by the Hollywood star Hugh Grant. Biles ended the evening posing for Usain Bolt’s selfie, along with fellow winners including Michael Phelps, all recreating Bolt’s trademark ‘To Di World’ celebration pose.
“I remember standing on stage with Usain Bolt and getting that Laureus Award and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I don’t belong here – I only hope to do in my sport what he has done in his sport’.
“Now I am a little more confident on the red carpet, but [in 2017] I did not have red-carpet experience! They get you fitted in whatever you would like to wear, and they brought hair and make-up – it was one of the first times I had hair and make-up done. I was like, ‘this is insane – this is the elite athlete lifestyle that you see other elite athletes having!’ But I was always really intimidated in that presence. Now, I wouldn’t say I feel like I belong, but I definitely know who I am and that a lot of people look up to me. In that shared space I am now more confident.”