By Cody Evans
Simone Biles’s recent decision to stop competing at the 2020 Olympics shocked the world. Biles has been the gold standard (literally) for gymnastics over the last decade. Her decision inspired heated conversation about mental health and competition. While some praised her for backing out, others condemned her actions and claimed she was “letting her country down.” But is this really the case? Can we place that burden on one person?
Neither you nor I truly knows her situation, so it’s perhaps unwise to claim definitively that she’s a quitter, a letdown, or any of the other harsh terms hurled her way. But one thing this situation has done is expose how we often view athletes as commodities, not people. We assume they are only valuable for what they do for us — and nothing more.
The Bible has something to say about this perspective.
Made in the Image of God
Let’s consider what the Bible says about people in general. Genesis 1:26-28 tell us that everyone is made in the Image of God. This means that God made us with the capacity to create, pursue excellence, do things like gymnastics, and even compete together. This also means that we have inherent value outside of competition. In our current sports culture athletes are often dehumanized. Let me provide an example: Patrick Mahomes was the first player to receive a 10-year contract with a huge sum of money. Right now Mahomes is one of (if not the best) QB in football. But what do you think will happen if his play declines or he gets hurt? The conversation will then turn to, “He isn’t worth the money.” He will go from a hero to a villain overnight. These kinds of comments and conversations make players into a product, not a person. We must find ways to think differently about our athletes. They are more than what they do
Now, consider Biles, who has competed at such a high level for so long. This Olympics were supposed to be a victory lap for her and the USA, but that didn’t happen. She went from the greatest to one who ” let her country down.” Yet Christians believe that everyone is made in the image God, and we cannot forget that even in the heat of competition. This means that Biles can and should make her own decisions, that she has the freedom to compete or not compete, and her decisions should be respected. She is more than what she does.
Although we may be shocked at Biles’s decision, let’s learn from this moment. We can talk to our children about Who defines them and not what defines. We are not valuable because we make lots of money, are the best at what we do, or win gold metals. We are valuable because we have been created by a God who loves us. We can also teach our children (and ourselves) that what we do (work, play, compete) is for the glory of God and not for ourselves, other people, or even for our country. Of course, those parties can receive honor in the pursuit of glorifying God, but they must not receive the glory.
More Than a Competitor
If you follow sports or the Olympics, I hope you take the opportunity to consider what God says about you and others. I hope you take the opportunity to consider the value of competition but in the right light. I hope and pray Biles is encouraged by her family, teammates, and friends in this moment. Because I know if this was me, I would surely need it.
Biles is more than an Olympic gymnast. She is a human being made in the image and likeness of God. Her value lies not in her success, but in her being an image-bearer of God. She’s more than what she does, and it seems she’s beginning to learn this for herself:
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. 🤍
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
And the same is true for you. While you’re probably not a gold-medal-winning Olympian, you too will be tempted to view your worth in terms of your productivity, job title, success, or status. But you are more than that. You too are an image-bearer of God, and you are more than what you do.