Content warning: The following article discusses sexual abuse and suicidal ideation.
“Why didn’t they come forward?”
It’s a refrain many of us are too accustomed to hearing in response to countless allegations against a succession of well-known sexual predators—both convicted and still walking among us. But as 19-time World Champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles reminds us in the latest episode of her Facebook Watch Original docuseries Simone vs Herself, sometimes the trauma is simply too much to process in real-time.
In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that began in 2015 and would upend the US Gymnastics Association, Biles now recalls dismissing her own experience at the hands of now-convicted former team doctor and serial sex offender Larry Nassar. “I thought I was being dramatic, because I was one of the lucky ones,” she says. “I didn’t get it as bad as some of the other girls I knew.”
Instead, she suppressed the memories, letting the anger and emotions mount until she found herself breaking down at the revelation, an event that triggered a pronounced depression, as she and mother Nellie Biles tearfully share. “I kinda just shut everybody out,” Simone recalls. “I remember telling my mom and my agent that I slept all the time...because it was my way to escape reality, and sleeping was the closest thing to death for me at that point.”
With the help of her extensive support system, a now 24-year-old Biles has fought her way back, not just out of that darkness but all the way back to the lead spot on the Olympic-bound team. Still, she admits that even the experience of training has at times been triggering—in fact, it was Biles who was instrumental in compelling the USGA to discontinue its relationship with the famed Karolyi Ranch, which had been the site of Nassar’s abuse.
“With gymnasts, if you get injured...your ‘heal time’ is 4 to 6 weeks,” she explains. “But then with something so traumatic that happens like this...it’s hard for us to process that. There’s actually no time limit or healing time for it, so you just take it day-by-day. It’s okay to say ‘I need help—and there’s nothing wrong with that.’”
Simone vs Herself is a rare and deeply vulnerable glimpse at the inner life of one of the world’s most formidable athletes at the top of her game. Per a press release provided to The Root: “But as the series will reveal, there are peaks left to scale while balancing adversity—from adjusting to a postponed Olympics to conquering the challenges that come with success and the weight of enormous expectations...this is the journey of Simone in pursuit of being the very best she can be.
Simone vs Herself is presented by Facebook and Religion of Sports. Fans can receive additional updates on the series by following the Versus on Watch Facebook Page or joining the Official Simone Biles Fan Group. You can take a look at the full episode here:
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or assault and needs support, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).