Leave athletes alone

Mikaela Shiffrin on Instagram expresses to continue to get up and Simone Biles supports Shiffrin in the same post on Instagram.

ABIGAIL SAATHOFF, Opinion Columnist

In the 2021 Summer Olympics Simone Biles shocked the nation by pulling out of the team event mid-competition. In the eyes of some fans and viewers, Biles quickly moved from the greatest gymnast of all time to a quitter. That wasn’t what happened at all – Biles got a case of the twisties, a gymnastic term for “the sudden inability for a gymnast to make the requisite spins,” a mental block that was impossible for Biles to get out of. Knowing that competing would risk her safety, she stopped competing.

A similar event happened at the 2022 Winter Olympics with Alpine Skier Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin is one of the greatest in her own right, with two gold medals and one silver from her previous performances. She came to the Olympics favored to win gold medals in three of her six events, but that didn’t happen. Shiffrin recorded multiple did-not -finish results, placed 18th in one race and ninth in another before narrowly finishing fourth in the team event. 

Shiffrin, much like Biles, was greeted with anger and hate; people posting on social media claimed she choked, calling her a failure and more. Even worse, NBC’s broadcasting capitalized on her failure, featuring her on-screen as she sat on the side of a course taking a moment. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing NBC could have done, drawing further attention to Shiffrin taking a moment. 

Shiffrin’s experience at these games was awful; things did not go to plan and despite her struggling, haters and bullies on social media still went to town. Shiffrin included some of the hateful comments she received on her Twitter page on Feb. 17, citing comments like “can’t handle the pressure,” “got what you deserved,” “your time is over retire,” “can’t perform as soon as she has a competition,” “dumb bitch can’t even do the one thing she is supposed to do right,” “can’t wait for you to be done so we don’t have to see your loser face anymore,” and even more. 

Seeing all of these things come up for Shiffrin is reminiscent of Biles’ experience this summer, and even further back to the experience of Naomi Osaka after she pulled out of the French Open. Seeing each of these stories play out only makes me question why – why do we insist upon treating female athletes this way when they fail? Comparatively, five-time Olympian Shaun White narrowly missed medaling when he fell in his final event, and all the attention that has come his way has been relatively positive, not the aggressive bullying some other athletes have encountered. 

The biggest thing fans, viewers and haters tend to forget about is that these athletes are human and normal people with normal people issues. But they are held to a much higher standard, leaving no leeway for any moments of relief or breath. Women are held to an even higher standard, which means when they fall or fail the reactions are even more aggressive. This most commonly takes place online. According to the Pew Research Center Part 5: Witnessing Harassment Online by Maeve Duggan, “60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names,” with more recent events, this has only increased. 

The bullying isn’t even justified, as many of the people who complain and bully these athletes are not even athletes themselves, but are people sitting on their couch watching the games, deeming themselves able to judge. According to the Coloradoan: Beware of judging others from the comfort of your couch by Mary Francis, “We harshly judge those around us who dare to be great, to speak out for their beliefs or who have worked every day of their lives to be the best. Of course, the hypocrisy of it is that we all hate to be judged but we have all been guilty of judging someone else.” Regardless of how difficult it is to remember how hateful the criticism and bullying is, it’s so important, and these very comments can have life-long impacts on the athletes. 

Even worse, bullying female athletes is not a new thing; articles dating back to at least 2014 include mention of cyberbullying on Twitter. The earliest I could find was an article from 2014, “Even Olympic Athletes Aren’t Immune from Cyberbullying” by Tim Woda. It detailed the cyberbullying faced by Elise Christie after she fell during a speed skate event in the Olympics. 

With all that being said, the bullying of athletes, specifically female athletes over social media, needs to end. Fans, viewers and more need to grow up and recognize that these athletes are real people too. They don’t deserve merciless hate from strangers on the internet.