Naomi Osaka. Simone Biles. Both women are young Black women who have been able to stand out in a world that is so focused on the Olympics. Both faced career changes at the Tokyo Games. Both mentioned pressure and mental health.

These Black women are even more in the spotlight because they have put so much effort into their preparation and sacrifice. They are expected to succeed, to be strong, and to persevere. They have to work harder to get the recognition they deserve and are often judged harsher than other women if they fail to meet expectations.

Natelege Whaley, a New York City resident, was struck by the fact that Black women athletes were claiming their right to care for their mental health over the pressure of competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

Whaley, who is Black, said that “This is powerful.” “They are changing the way we see athletes and Black women as human beings.

According to advocates and young Black women who spoke with The Associated Press, being a young Black woman in America comes with its own pressure to perform.

The Tokyo Games signal the end of an era. It was a time when Black women gave so much to the world that they had little left. This is according to Patrisse, an activist and author who cofounded the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Black women will not die (for public acceptance). We’re not going to be martyrs anymore,” said Cullors, who resigned her role as director of a BLM nonprofit foundation in May. “A gold medal does not make someone lose their mind. Simone is telling me, “I’m more important than the competition.”

She said, “Activism is one of the many contributions that I have made. We all need to recognize when enough is enough.

Whaley also found Biles’ message to be a good one. He co-created Brooklyn Recess, an event series in New York City, to preserve Double Dutch, a popular sport of rope jumping in Black communities. Whaley and Naima Moore Turner, co-creators of the event, noticed that they talked a lot about mental health in their early events.

Whaley, a 32 year-old freelance writer on race and culture, said that people will say “Let Black women Lead, Because They Know,”

She said, “It’s almost like (Black women) don’t know because we’re special humans who are supernatural.” It’s because we live at intersections where there is no other choice than to know.


The world’s greatest living Olympian, swimmer Michael Phelps, has been credited with elevating a conversation about sports and mental health. But when Phelps hung up his goggles five years ago, he was less likely to be burdened by the chronic health disparities, sexual violence, police brutality and workplace discrimination that Black women, famous or not, endure daily.

Still, the Black women Olympic athletes, echoed by many of their sisters in the U.S. and around the world, stepped forward and said they need to protect their mental health. They didn’t ask for sympathy or permission. They asked that people respect their decisions and allow them to be.

After pulling out of the finals for women’s team gymnastics on July 27, Biles, 24, stated that she believes mental health should be first. She was the most decorated American gymnast of modern times before the Tokyo Games.

She said that prioritizing mental health “shows how strong a competitor and person you are, rather than fighting through it.”

Biles won a bronze medal in Tuesday’s balance beam competition.

Naomi Osaka (23), a four-time Grand Slam champion, raised concerns about her mental well-being in June, when she resisted speaking to the media during the French Open. She then pulled herself out of competition until the Tokyo Games. Osaka was not able to compete in the Olympic medals, but she expressed concern about her well-being.

Osaka stated that she felt like there was a lot pressure to do this after the Olympic loss. Weeks earlier, she had written an op-ed for Time magazine in which she said: “It’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.”

These attitudes could be related to age. Many young people feel empowered and able to talk about mental health in a different way than previous generations.

Biles and Osaka were born in 1997 months apart. They are part of Gen Z, which is the first generation to live their entire lives online. According to Nicole O’Hare, a Phoenix counselor, Gen Z-ers are more open about their mental health problems.

O’Hare stated, “It’s beautiful to see this kind of normalization mental health and asking for assistance.” “They are pushing that barrier and saying, I can’t, they need help, I’m struggling. I need support.  Listening to their questions can reveal a lot.


Despite the increased conversation, it is not new to ignore Black women’s mental or emotional well-being.

Enslaved Black women had little agency over their bodies and their families before slavery was abolished. They were slave wives and wet nurses. They were subjected to sexual desires and forced to work in fields and houses without credit for their successes or innovations. Black women were granted the right to vote in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. This happened 50 years after Black men.

Recent research has shown that disparities in socioeconomics and health have had a significant impact on Black women’s mental well-being. African American women are three times more likely to die from maternal causes than white women. They also have a higher rate of pain-related deaths than white women.

Black women are often victims and not just leaders in the fight against police violence. Numerous studies have shown that Black people are three times more likely than whites to be shot by police. Black women often grieve the loss of close friends or family members to police violence.

They are also more likely than others to be subject to sexual assault during their lives. This is something that resonated with Biles who was assaulted by Larry Nassar (a former USA Gymnastics doctor convicted for criminal sexual conduct with minors). According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, Black women receive 48 to 68cs for every dollar that is paid to white men in the workplace.

Osaka had faces emblazoned with the names of George Floyd and Ahmaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans who were killed by police or vigilantes during the U.S. Open. This was after a summer of protests.

Cullors stated that activism does not have to be a burden on Black women. She added that they could choose to prioritize themselves if this is what they feel is best.

This message resonates beyond the well-known figures such as Cullors. Liz Dwyer is a Black woman in Los Angeles who is a writer, editor, and activist. She celebrated Biles via Twitter and stated that “Black women no longer want to be the mental-health mule.”

Dwyer stated that the entire society benefits from the work we do. “But the racism and sexism and worrying about the rise in hate crimes, worrying for the safety of your kids, worrying that your children will be profiled and sent to school to prison pipeline… all of this takes a toll.”

Melanie Campbell is the president and CEO at the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and the convener of Black Women’s Roundtable. She is a different generation from Osaka and Biles. She said that she was inspired by their leadership in mental health.

Campbell said, “It motivates you to keep advocating, keep pushing for civil rights because this generation is stepping forward.” He was arrested during civil disobedience in a campaign for voting rights led by Black women.

She said, “All of us have an important role to play.” “I can talk about these issues while still being who I am.”