Simone Biles Opened Up About One of Her First Experiences with Racism
Biles discussed a comment that gymnast Carlotta Ferlito made about her and the overall prevalence of racism in sports.
When Simone Biles isn't busy practicing insane gymnastics moves, she takes time to speak on important topics like mental health and body shaming. In one of her most recent interviews, she opened up about the first time she remembers experiencing racism and her perspective on racism in sports.
In an interview with Today, Hoda Kotb asked Biles if she recalled an early brush with racism. "I didn't really experience it when I was younger," Biles responded. "Obviously I went to a predominantly white school, but I didn't really notice racism until 2013." (Related: Simone Biles Hasn't Done This Gymnastics Move In a Decade—But She Still Nailed It)
If you're a Simone fan, you probably know exactly where this is going. That year at the World Championships, Biles won bronze on the balance beam while Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito placed fifth. In an interview afterward, Ferlito said she told a teammate: "Next time we'll have our skin Black also so we can win, too." Biles didn't comment on Ferlito's remark at the time, but her mother, Nellie Biles told USA Today that "it did bother her."
Despite the fact that Biles had just become the first Black world all-around champion in gymnastics history, Ferlito's remark about Biles was "really the news rather than me winning Worlds," Biles recalled in her Today interview. "Other than that, [racism] happens every day, and I feel like every Black athlete can say that they've experienced it through their career," continued Biles. "But we just have to keep going for those little ones looking up to us." (Related: How Simone Biles Practices Self-Love Today and Every Day)
To her point, Biles' fellow Olympic gymnast, Gabby Douglas has also experienced racism in the sport. In a 2012 interview with Oprah, Douglas described how other gymnasts treated her at the gym where she once trained. "I was just, you know, kind of getting racist jokes, kind of being isolated from the group," she said. "So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out." Douglas even recalled a specific instance: "One of my teammates was like, 'Can you scrape the bar?' And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?'" (Related: Serena Williams Was a Victim of Blatant Racism On Romanian TV)
Since becoming an Olympian, Douglas has been picked apart because of her hair, because she wasn't cheering "enthusiastically enough" for her teammates, and because she didn't put her hand on her heart during the national anthem (which exposed a double standard between Black and white Olympic athletes).
In her recent cover interview with Vogue, Biles expressed her support for the Black Lives Matter movement. "We need justice for the Black community," she said. "With the peaceful protests it's the start of change, but it's sad that it took all of this for people to listen. Racism and injustice have existed for years with the Black community."
As the movement continues to shed light on the many ways that Black people face systemic racism, Biles' words are a reminder that pro athletes are no exception.