Simone Biles’ Olympic breakdown, or whatever you want to call it, serves to teach us again about the relationship between performer and audience but, at the same time, it can also extend our understanding of a sports injury. The two are related and a short examination of other athletes’ relationships with the public may offer insight.
For sports injuries, we’ve known about broken bones, sprains, and the like for a long time. Brain injury has only recently entered our field of view and many people may not be fully on board yet with the idea, though the concussion protocols in the NFL and rise of understanding of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy have made a mark.
Biles looks fine and appears to act that way but what seems to be afflicting her is an injury of the mind, not of the body or the brain of which it is a part. Diseases of the mind have been studied for a very long time with little success until the last century or so when doctors and pharmacologists began researching and treating using a variety of chemicals, some of which mimic neurotransmitters or other brain bio-chemicals.
The point of this observation is not to launch an exhaustive examination of brain science or pharmacology which would bore most readers. The point, rather, is to open up some free space for Biles and others who might suffer from a kind of performance burnout; a way to say this is as legitimate as a broken bone but with fewer obvious effects save the inability to perform. This could lead to some startling ideas about what’s going on in society as a whole, but more on that in a moment.
Throughout history there have been many stories of talented performers more or less at war with the people who cover them in an attempt to relate part of competition’s story to the audience. The on again off again love affair between sports writers and athletes leaps to mind and the ceaseless coverage we give to political leaders in a democracy runs a close second.
Sports writers seem to have an easier time in the modern era if only because video technology makes it trivial to relive a moment and to slow it down for minute dissection. Political reporters rely less on what some politician said or did preferring instead to rally experts to opine about an event or position taken…