In baseball, it’s called the “yips”.
Steve Sax had it. The Dodgers second baseman, one season, simply could not throw the ball to first base. Later, Rick Ankiel and Jarrod Saltalamacchia went next level “yip”.
For the average-joe ball fan, it’s just plain weird. How can athletes–least of all professional ones–just… lose it?
But for the pro athlete whose livelihood depends on sound body and mind, it’s not weird. It’s scary. It’s a real psychological dilemma that has been known to hit athletes of all stripes and colours. All-star hockey goaltenders one day find themselves “fighting the puck”. A basketball player can spin off two defenders and swish 18-foot fadeaways, but then goes Cindy Brady when setting up for a comparatively simply free throw.
Baseball has “yips”. Gymnastics has “twisties”.
And I’ll admit, I was immediately suspicious of Simone Biles’ pulling out of the team competition at the Tokyo Olympics. I had younger sisters do high-level gymnastics. I have a sister-in-law who was an Olympic broadcaster in gymnastics. My wife is a former national team rhythmic gymnast who coaches recreational gymnastics. I’m a former network tv sports broadcaster. But I had never heard of the “twisties” until a couple of weeks ago.
Listen, I’m not here to pile on a culture that seems dead-set on pinning ‘mental health survivor’ badges on lapels. Nor will I ever argue that the “yips” are akin to the Yurchenko double-pike “twisties”. I will, however, underline that pressure to perform can certainly cause stress on one’s mental state. But then heck, that is the very essence of sport, isn’t it?
Biles pulled out of the biggest competition in the world to tend to her “mindfulness“. Okay. Fine. But how about Jordan Chiles’ mindfulness? Imagine the mental gymnastics she had to pull off when one minute she’s a cheerleader, and the next she’s being called on–in a minute’s notice, mind you!–that she’ll have to fill in for the greatest gymnast of all time. On uneven bars and beam. On the biggest stage she’ll ever compete in. And in front of a worldwide audience.
But nary a peep was made by anyone of the heroic mental toughness Chiles displayed (and teammate Sunisa Lee who stepped in for Biles on floor in the team event) in helping the USA earn silver in the team competition.
And how about Chinese diver Quan Hongchan? Lots was made about the gold medallist scoring perfect 10s by all seven judges in her second and fourth dives of the five-round competition. But tell me about this 14-year old’s mental state, climbing up the ladder, walking out on the 10-meter high platform, and processing what a gold medal would mean to her family. Oh, did I mention her family was mired in poverty, surviving on the meagre salary of her orange-farming father?… and that Quan’s mother has been ill for years, following a serious car accident in 2017?
But there’s something worse than fighting the “twisties” or “yips”. And that is supporting objective, intrinsic, moral evil. And Biles backflipped into precisely that, this week.
“I already know this is going to start the biggest argument & may even lose followers BUT I’m very much pro-choice”, boasted Biles in an Instagram post August 10th which has not been deleted. Now that’s conviction.
“Your body, your choice”, she says. That old, worn-out canard.
Biles says she’s Catholic. Biles proclaims prayer is a part of her life. And somewhere deep in her heart, I have to believe that Biles truly is thankful to God for all the blessings that have come her way. Those blessings would include adoptive parents who were actually her biological grandfather and his wife who cared for Simone and her younger sister as foster parents. You see, tragically, mother Nellie was too strung out on drugs and alcohol to care for her own children.
But Simone says her grandparents gave her “a second shot at life”.
Nay, the utter tragedy.
Sadly, we simple–and oft-times stupid–human beings take way too much for granted. Watching our kids play at the park. Having a friend over for coffee. Relaxing with a good book. Or just gazing at a magnificent sunset.
But Simone Biles stands as a reminder to all of us–”And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.” And if Simone has even a shred of true Catholicism lurking in that heart of hers, she will wake up to the realization that you cannot serve social media followers. You must serve the God you profess to love and honor. There is simply too much at stake: your soul, and the souls of countless others who see you for the magnificent athletic specimen you are.
The Instagram post should also serve as a reminder to all of us fighting for truth that we must stand strong in the face of rampant Godlessness.
And when you’re down with that, also take a moment to be thankful that one Quan Hongchan wasn’t–like millions upon millions of other Chinese children–an abortion statistic.