The Difficulty of Being Simone Biles


The Difficulty of Being Simone Biles


According to O'Neale, Simone Biles might be the best gymnast ever. But her hardest trick may have been tuning out issues of family and race. In doing so, the young Simone Biles is also emerging as a torchbearer, thought leader and inspiring role model for many Americans who are tuning out of race and into intrinsic qualities of their human identity.

Excerpt: "Simone says race has never been an issue for her, or a problem, or something she has especially thought about. Asked if she’s happy to inspire other girls of color, she says she is, but “then again, to me, I feel like I’m just Simone.

“I never think of it as, ‘Oh, I’m the first African-American to win [the world championship],” Biles adds. “Everyone just shoves that in our heads. I never think, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am the first this, I’m the first that.’ I just do my gymnastics because I like to have fun. I don’t bring race into it.”

By sharing Simone's experiences and her refusal to give 'race' any 'headspace.' O'Neale illustrates the problems, the distinctions between race and culture, and the fault lines of a political category used to construct personal identity.

O'Neale concludes "The economic, historic and cultural realities of race are complicated, and focusing on tenths of points can feel so much more straightforward. Biles has risen to the top in a gymnastics system in which whiteness is the default for success at every level. The gymnastics world says it doesn’t see race, but white is a race, and perhaps that’s what they’re not seeing.
Whether it’s the pressures of family, the contours of race or all the outsized Olympic expectations, Biles knows how to block everything out. She is the best in the world at keeping her balance and landing on her feet."


Lonnae O'Neal


This story appears in the 2016 Body Issue, check out more on


The Undefeated. An ESPN The Magazine collaboration.


August 2016



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Lonnae O'Neal, “The Difficulty of Being Simone Biles,” Anti-Racism Digital Library, accessed January 30, 2023,