The Women Who Are Changing Sports

The Women Who Are Changing Sports

Cate Love, Arts and Entertainment Editor

In the past year, the conversation in sports has been shifting.  Athletes are beginning to put their mental health first. They are showing that they are people before they are athletes.  They are using their platforms for activism, no matter the repercussions. 


For a long time, athletes have had to suffer through their competition no matter what was going on. We have particularly seen this in USA Gymnastics. At past Olympics, the young girls have competed on injuries and while being sexually abused by a trusted team doctor. The most important thing was the competition and the medals. However, that way of thinking in sports is beginning to change. 


At the head of this movement have been three influential women. 


This year at the French Open, Tennis player Naomi Osaka decided that she would not talk to the media during the tournament for her mental health. Tournament rules require a post-match press conference when requested. After skipping her press conference, Osaka was fined and threatened with expulsion if she missed another. Osaka made the decision to withdraw instead.  Additionally, she later withdrew from Wimbledon for her mental health and personal time. Osaka prioritized her mental health over winning. 


At the Tokyo Olympics this past summer, Simone Biles, who is often said to be the greatest gymnast of all time, shocked people with her decision to withdraw. Biles unexpectedly withdrew from the team, individual all-around, and multiple event finals. She had been a favorite to take home Gold in almost all of them. Biles said she made the decision to put her mental health first. 


It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it.” Biles said in a press conference after withdrawing from the team final. 


Even when favored to win, we have seen many athletes sit out competitions for their mental health in the last year. 


Five-time Olympian Allyson Felix left her contract with Nike in 2019. After having a baby, Nike wanted to pay her 70% less than before. In her op-ed in the New York Times she wrote, “If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward. It’s one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men.” 


 After leaving Nike, Felix signed to Athleta, a women focused athletic brand. Simone Biles later followed her to a sponsorship with the brand. Both athletes will work with the brand’s mostly female design team to create collaborations with the goal to empower women and young girls. 


In September, Osaka, Biles, and Felix were all named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential people. These women are changing the way we think about sports and athletes. They are helping us see that athletes are real people first.  


 It’s not just professional athletes that experience the anxiety and pressure that comes from sports. Even highschool athletes are experiencing this same kind of mental stress. In 2015, a study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association found that “many student athletes report higher levels of negative emotional states than non-student-athlete adolescents”. With less time for other things, the load of highschool can build up and put more pressure on student athletes. 


Hopefully this conversation will continue to all levels of sports, to help athletes of all ages take care of their mental health.