WagerBop takes pains not to adopt political stances, except to occasionally argue for A) a sporting event to take place, rather than be cancelled in the COVID-19 era, and B) for said non-cancelled events to concentrate on broadcasting the action and reject pushes for large live crowds, especially in pandemic-stricken areas. (In related news, I’m on record as believing that A) Tim Tebow is not good enough to reach the NFL Hall-of-Fame, and B) Tim Tebow is also not the slowest, dumbest, least-talented athlete in the history of organized pigskin, putting me at odds with 99.9% of football fans who have an opinion about Tim Tebow.) In other words – even when it makes things slightly uncomfortable or banal – we tend to play politics right down the middle.
Not taking sides doesn’t have to be a cowardly move, not when it’s for the right reasons. I know better than to preach moral relativism to WagerBop’s readers, who know that a scoreboard reflects the indifference of our universe to anyone’s subjective opinion (thank God). But a blog at which Republicans, Democrats, and independents converge to read about sports has to try to make points that everyone can agree with for once. Like “radical centrists,” we cling to the concept that any left-wing or right-wing belief can be held in good faith, or corrupted and tinged with prejudice, and that both sides are responsible for mean stereotypes on social media, a byproduct of each political group trying to make its beliefs more equal than others.
Bush administration Biden administration is working to censor the internet of criticism of the Biden administration misinformation, our sympathy would reflexively lean in the direction of social-conservative sports fans at the moment. (There’s nothing a sports-betting handicapper likes more than a media-maligned underdog.) After all, the notion that “woke politics” has overtaken all of sports is a laughable myth. Locker rooms are color-blind spaces. Hopefully, no locker room ever becomes an Ivy League dormitory in which players are segregated by skin color. Furthermore, the Olympic Games are classical conservatism in action. Countries of oppressed people aren’t given reparations-points – they compete on level terms vs oppressors. And yet, all peoples of the world except for Russians are welcomed as equals at the Parade of Nations. There has never been a civil war or a fascist ruling class in Olympic Village, except when Nazis hosted the Games in 1936. But even then, the idea of the Olympics served to spit in Hitler’s face just as gloriously as Jesse Owens did, promoting racial harmony in midst of a sea of prejudice. Perhaps liberals should incorporate such “temporary color-blind spaces” as the Olympics into their framework of pro-tolerance action. Far from making a “right-wing” or “left-wing” statement, the Parade of Nations is a reminder that the human species danced from the ocean together. So, when the Olympics are called “racist” by tree-experts blind to the forest, this blog is often first to second the voices of conservative pundits.
But as Dikembe Mutombo would say, “not today.” Popular conservative sports-analysts of 2021 – all 6 of them – have chosen to deface their already-shaky reputation with an unfair, parroted, stupid attack on Team USA gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from women’s team Gymnastics competition at the Tokyo Olympics after performing badly and struggling to focus on the mat.
The headlines are so disgusting that it pains me to share them here, but it’s also obligatory in an counter-editorial piece. Jason Whitlock, whose next original idea could be his first, shouted on a YouTube video that Biles was a “coward” for quitting in the heat of battle. Eddie Scarry of The Federalist jumped on the bandwagon with a scary-bad take titled “Simone Biles And The Media’s Celebration Of Choking.” As if the footage of Canadian diver Pamela Ware’s feet-first flop wasn’t about to be ignored, shelved, and scrubbed out of existence 72 hours later.
Clay Travis of Barstool Sports appeared to be a lone voice of reason and diplomacy, posting a benign remark about how Biles could be the latest health casualty of young athletes reading their social media threads. That’s a fair point – as many public blogs take pot-shots at competitors, it pales in comparison to the bullies, low-lifes, and anonymous smear artists found skulking under the social-media posts of celebrities. But then Travis reconsidered the wisdom of acting like a warm-blooded mammal, and posted this gutter trash of a take:
USA gymnastics should pull Simone Biles’s ability to compete as an individual going forward & elevate the next best gymnast to the all around competitions. Reward the gymnast who didn’t quit on her teammates. If Biles can’t go for the team, she shouldn’t go individually either.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 27, 2021
Populist provocateur and sports-opinion s***head Charlie Kirk chimed in a day later, yawping that Biles had proven “America raised a generation of weak people.”
Maybe the Simone-haters are motivated by sexism or racism. Who knows. I can’t read their minds. What I know is that the attacks on Simone Biles’ character are based on 2 very toxic things: 1) a profit-driven need to appeal to the worst elements of Red America (if that sounds like a partisan smear, it’s not – WagerBop has also complained when blogs appeal to the worst of #BlueMaga by “reporting” that Vladimir Putin is rigging the Olympics) and 2) an old-school “macho” and militaristic view of an athlete’s role in professional and international sports that was already fading away 50 years ago, is unwelcome in 90% of the sports organizations around the world (and most certainly unwelcome at the Olympics), and is no longer eligible for debate or argument. Almost as if the 5 biggest sneering, retched bullies from your Middle School were publishing conservative “think pieces” with precious few thoughts hiding in them.
Let’s recognize that 21st century athletes are partners with their teams, clubs, and federations, not soldiers in the army. With that premise in mind, a Simone Biles fan’s logical reply to Whitlock, Travis, et al becomes a lot like Jimmy McGill’s rant to Howard Hamlin in the pilot episode of Better Call Saul:
“You see that balance beam over there? Half of that balance beam belongs to Simone Biles. Ariake Gymnastics Centre, all of its mats and apparatus, all of those seats up there? Half of those belong to Simone too. See the burning torch? The rings? THE WHOLE FLIPPIN’ SUMMER OLYMPICS? HALF OF THIS BELONGS TO SIMONE BILES!”
It’s not an exaggeration. Biles is more than just a Hall of Fame competitor who’s still gracing Team USA, she was also a quiet, leading advocate for the Tokyo Olympics to take place in 2021, braving the immense blowback that pro-Olympics voices risked taking online. If it wasn’t for Simone and a few other powerful celebrity voices, there might not even be a 2020 Summer Olympics for Jason Whitlock to claim she’s ruining.
Headlines and reality have combined to humiliate Biles’ conservative critics since the controversy erupted last week. It has come to light that Simone’s “mental health” issues were not manifest in classic signs of depression or lethargy – she showed up to Tokyo working as hard as ever, only to find that her internal noise was leading to a condition known as the “twisties,” in which gymnasts involuntarily bend their limbs out-of-concert with each other, resulting in dreadful spills. Like this one, taken by Biles in warm-up footage from Tokyo:
It’s also come to light that Biles, contrary to the lazy speculations of mainstream sports fans, is not suffering from an Instagram addiction or from an obsession with her critics. Instead, the Team USA superstar is still dealing with trauma related to the sexual abuse inflicted on her generation of distaff United States gymnasts, and the subsequent failure of USA Gymnastics (and Ohio State University) to fully come to grips with the scandal and accelerate the process of healing.
Still, given the above facts, which are approximately 250,000 times more important than whoever happens to win gold in the Uneven Bars, it’s not as if Biles showed up feeling sorry for herself and refusing to compete. While practicing for the team competition, Simone discovered (the hard way) that she was in no shape to compete with the form expected of a legend. By taking herself out of Team USA’s medal chase, the 4-time Olympic gold medalist probably saved the team’s silver medal as opposed to endangering the squad’s podium chances by pressing ahead. Any suggestion that Simone Biles “prevented another athlete from taking part” by joining the Tokyo team is grasping at straws, since she had no idea the “twisties” would set in overseas, any more than a pro golfer can predict that the “yips” – a mental bug that causes jerked short putts – will spring up during a trip to play in a world-championship event.
Whitlock, Travis, and Kirk are familiar with the yips. In gymnastics, a “yip” can cost limb and life. If red-meat pundits want to ignore how Simone Biles helped rescue the Summer Olympics prior to boosting her team’s chances with a selfless act, it’s their stupidity and their loss. But it takes real chutzpah for 3 guys who don’t compete in anything as dangerous as fast-pitch softball to demand an Olympic heroine put herself in harm’s way over some outmoded “macho” sports vanity.
The notion that Clay Travis is messed up on such a level at which his problems with individual issues like race and gender are merely symptoms of a deeper disease could sound like some sort of back-handed apologia for prejudice. But consider the double standards exhibited by these “Team Sports = Armed Forces” equivocators, who yearn for the days of Vince Lombardi and his unquestioning troops. Whitlock came to prominence as an NBA critic, but apparently he wasn’t around in 1992, when 2 athletes who had signed up for Team USA in Barcelona had reservations about competing that were similar in some ways to Biles’ plight at the Summer Olympics of ’21.
Wait now, which 2 Team USA athletes dared to take a coward’s way out and betray the Stars & Stripes!? Surely, the sports journalists of Red America were furious at them both!
The athletes’ names were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
Bird suffered from terrible back injuries as the Dream Team pushed irrepressibly for gold in Spain. Chuck Daly and his veteran players all agreed that the only realistic way the Dream Team could fail was due to some ghastly injury or controversy. The potential image of Larry Bird, an American icon and part of the team’s 1970s heritage, taking a collision and fracturing his spine on worldwide TV, spooked Team USA and Bird into making an unthinkable decision – Boston’s greatest cager of all time would sit-out the 1st half of the gold medal game against Tony Kukoc and Team Croatia.
Bird quit the gold-medal game until garbage-time for the good of his team. I don’t remember anyone calling Larry Bird a “quitter.”
Johnson, of course, had another reason for nearly sitting out the 1992 Olympics. Magic’s positive HIV diagnosis was chilling for opposing nations and the IOC alike, in an era in which ignorance about AIDS was at its peak. Some officials, players, and coaches were concerned that Johnson would infect another cager with sweat or a tiny droplet of blood.
Magic was prepared not to play on the Dream Team if his presence would have jeopardized the squad or the Barcelona Games in any way. Funny, nobody called him a quitter. Instead, unity in public sentiment toward Johnson’s inclusion on Team USA helped to pressure the IOC into not making a fuss. Black people and women are still oppressed in the sports world. Just as cogent to the Simone Biles story is that athletes without professional salaries who don’t otherwise make a billion dollars for the oligarchy are subject to harsher standards than football, basketball, and baseball heroes, who are lauded for selflessly passing the torch (excuse the pun) whenever they do.
This is where I’m supposed to say Whitlock and Travis are paid to appeal to a conservative Trump-voting audience, and are going out of their way to superficially attack a black woman just to turn a profit by winking at white, male, bigoted readers. Except in a somewhat sad and pathetic twist, the Simone Biles haters are totally out-of-touch with Red America, which is currently much more concerned with opposing Nancy Pelosi, internet censorship, and the U.S. invasion of Somalia than with criticizing Team USA gymnasts, a staple of Midwestern TV every 4 years. (My conservative parents named me “Kurt Thomas” after the American gymnast of the 1970s and 80s, and we’re still upset that Thomas did not quit on the job while in midst of making Gymkata.) In fact, my informal poll of Trump supporters’ opinions of Simone Biles has turned up nothing but praise for Biles having successfully pushed for the Summer Olympics to happen in spite of the potential backlash.
That’s the tragedy of the Tokyo Olympics – both partisan sides of the mainstream media have decided there’s more money to be made in negativity, bad news, and contempt. Conservative blogs are obsessed with how the Olympics are “too woke” and liberal blogs are cherry-picking the worst headlines possible, to make the Games of the XXXII Olympiad seem like a cesspool of inequity and COVID-spreading hazards. It seems reasonable to think there’s a quiet majority of viewers who’d like to read something positive about the Tokyo Olympics, and that sports bloggers could earn more profit by appealing to the masses than by stirring more fear and division among a loud, angry few.
When the media starts to care about anything more than Mammon, the world has truly turned upside-down. Heck, the USA Today even got a story exactly right for once. But if covered correctly by a better media, the revelation that Simone Biles rescued Team USA’s silver medals by sitting out with the “twisties” could help lead into a much more joyful narrative of how sportsmanship and selflessness have spontaneously broken-out among Tokyo’s athletes.
Here’s just 2 examples – swimming medalists Tatjana Schoenmaker, Annie Lazor, and Lilly King, congratulating each other following Team USA’s unexpected loss, and the incredible moment shared by high-jumpers Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi, who freely chose to declare the Tokyo high-jump finals a “tie” and celebrate dual gold medals.
“Can we have two golds?” 🇮🇹🥇🇶🇦
Here’s the remarkable moment that Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi decided to share the title in the men’s high jump.
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) August 1, 2021
The high-jump incident shows how the “military hierarchy” concept of teams, coaches, and athletes is dead and buried in the 21st century. No general would stop and ask 2 soldiers what they would prefer to do in a war. Barshim and Tamberi aren’t just partners with their national teams, they’re partners with the International Olympic Committee, which obeyed its rulebook by giving the pair a chance to decide their own fate.
There was a time when sports fans would have balked at Barshim’s offer to share the title. “There can only be 1 real winner, and winners always try to win,” editorials would say. Jim Rome would slander Team’s USA swim squad with the old “everyone gets a trophy” slogan, asking why 2 tough competitors would feel like hugging anyone after losing a race. Simone Biles would be peer-pressured into trying to perform, then criticized after the inevitable subpar score, drowning out a decade of her phenomenal feats in a sport in which women reign supreme.
Yep. There was a time. It’s over now, even if half of a dozen idiots in conservative media haven’t gotten the memo.
Ain’t progress grand?
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.