Updated: Oct 18
What goes up, must come down. This saying goes in physics, gymnastics and in life.
In true fashion, Simone Biles pulled a move that no one else anticipated during the Olympic Games: she withdrew from competition. When Biles pulled herself from the Olympic gymnastics individual all-around event for her mental health, public sentiments varied.
Some might say that Biles is so used to flying high that she took a page from Icarus and flew too close to the sun. I say she had the weight of the world ready to pull her down. A quick note on my own personal experience with this topic: mental health is just as important, if not more important, to your physical health while competing at any level of sport. I give so much credit to her teammates for being the support that Biles at this time. Biles didn’t “give up” on her team, and it clearly shows in the way they celebrate each other and their achievements that they want to lift each other up.
Yet, the world looked to the Olympics in anticipation of Biles winning the individual all-around gold medal. It seems that the world felt entitled to watch her perform. Even with the world watching her, Biles owes nobody answers regarding her mental health. But could her individual sponsors have been an exception?
From a corporate social responsibility perspective, it was doubtful that any sponsor would speak out against Biles. In a world where light is being shown on mental health, any corporate action against Biles at the moment would have been a step out of bounds. Rather, her sponsors got right to the punch and offered their support, a world-class social effort for a world-class athlete.
If we weren’t in a world where mental health is being advocated for, would her sponsors have had a course of action for her lack of performance? Was there a return-on-investment that they relied on following her expected gold medal win? In basic first year law student contract terms, a promise for performance?
Well, I’ll start by saying I don’t know the full details of her sponsorship contracts. Is she paid for social media posts? Event appearances? Medals? Just being the GOAT? Most likely secret answer E: all of the above.
Let’s assume parts of her contract, such as event appearances and media campaigns, were contingent on bringing home Olympic gold. Despite the incredible team event silver medal she will be toting back to the United States, sponsorship revenue executives have to wonder if they will be losing money on campaigns bolstered by gold. After all, sports and especially the Olympics are all about the “what-ifs.”
It’s a simple formula that’s been in place for centuries. Even as an earthly resource, gold is worth more than silver. A gold medal athlete is meant to make more money.
But Simone Biles is proving she’s worth more than gold. Gold medals are a wonderful thing to be attained, but Biles taking her place as a champion for mental health during AND after these games might be her biggest win.
Long gone are the days of quarterbacks saying “I’m going to Disneyland!” after the championship game. Queue the ending scene from The Game Plan (2007), a personal favorite movie of mine, where Joe Kingman (the one and only Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson) chooses his daughter over a fast food sponsorship.
Athletes are aligning with brand partners for more than what they can bring to competition, and the way her partners promote her following the Games will be an example of how brands can model their “promise for performances” moving forward. It’s no longer all about the medals or trophies brought home but a combination of who the athlete is and what their values are.
Because the greatest gymnast of all time has put her mental health over another set of gold medals to hang on her neck, the world is talking about mental health. The discussion isn’t over just yet.
Andrea is a part-time evening 2L at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the incoming Vice President of the Pace Sports, Entertainment and Arts Law Society. She works full-time as an Email Marketing Coordinator at BSE Global for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center. You can find her on most social media channels as @dreagarcia21.