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The Power of Black Athletes Prioritizing Mental Health

By: Rachel Collins

When high profile athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka withdrew from competition for mental health reasons, it set a powerful example. Our therapist Rachel Collins, MSW shares how this is a cultural change for Black athletes to prioritize themselves above institutions and the gaze of whiteness.

In 2021, both the greatest gymnast of all time and a major tennis star set boundaries around their mental health. First Japan’s tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, and this week, USA gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the finals of the Olympic games.

It has become clear in recent conversations involving Osaka, Biles, and other Black athletes, that many people (who are both a part of the athletic world and those who are spectators) are scared to see this generation of Black people prioritize themselves above institutions and the gaze of whiteness. There are many Black and indigenous POC folks who cannot fathom what it means to simply say “No” – to walk away from all you have worked hard for to take care of their own mental health. However, Black folks have been saying “no” to the violence of grind culture, and have been subversive by finding spaces of rest and joy in order to thrive in places that want to kill us – physically and emotionally.

“To have the power to simply say ‘no’, to prioritize your peace of mind, to say these ‘things’ don’t matter more than myself – is something a lot of Black people have never had the opportunity or privilege or confidence to do.”

Rachel Collins, Outpatient Therapist

What we are witnessing now is a generation of Black people who have seen their parents and others give their all and still not be enough. How many BIPOC LGBTQ+ people stayed in the closet only to end up lonely and disposable in the end? How many Black athletes “never gave up” and are now broke – financially physically, and emotionally drained from cultures that lifted them up when they were winning and at the top of their game only to discard them when they voiced their opinions?

Black millennials and Gen Z are saying this needs to change – now. Black people don’t owe anybody – And will and should continue to refuse to donate their body to these violent systems – and resist by radically resting and caring for themselves.

Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are asserting the significance of their mental health in a world that has always privileged the physicality and athleticism of black bodies above the welfare of our minds and emotions. The gravity of these two incredible individuals’ actions is huge and can’t be understated.

Let’s applaud this level of self-care, and denounce this idolization of pushing through despite our pain. Just because you need to step back doesn’t make you any less of a champion.

What brave choice will you make today to prioritize your mental health?

Learn more about our Outpatient Mental Health Therapy services.

Photo Credit: Matt Lee on Unsplash

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