The story of success

Lindsay Keener | Staff Writer

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Vfutscher

It can be assumed that everyone, at some point in their life, has heard the saying, “Confidence is key.” In most cases, it’s used as encouragement, a way to express support for those looking to accomplish a task.  For the average black woman, an expression of confidence is career and social suicide.

At the age of 23, U.S. Olympian and all-around world champion gymnast Simone Biles is a household name, and she knows it. In fact, Biles would even say she’s the best.

During an Oct. 11 interview with USA Today Sports, Biles said: “It’s not out of cockiness. I’ve won five world titles, and if I say, ‘I’m the best gymnast there is,’ [the reaction is] ‘Oh, she’s cocky. Look at her now.’ No, the facts are literally on the paper.”

She’s not wrong. As the first female African-American all-around world champion, Biles is the most decorated World Championship American gymnast and holds the most World Championship gold medals won by a female gymnast in history, all while remaining undefeated since 2013.

Hampton University student-athlete Autumn Smith thinks confidence is the determining factor in one’s success.

“The No. 1 thing you need to have as an athlete is confidence,” Smith said. “You can have the best training, but once you get on the field, track, court or wherever, that’s what separates the winner from second place.”

I had two initial reactions to Biles’ statement. The first being one of admiration and agreeance and the second being fear that her bold comments would land her in the hot seat with the media and the public. Black women are often scrutinized by the public for voicing their talent and confidence, even if there’s truth to their remarks.

Hampton University senior track athlete Jaelan Leonard found no issue with Biles’ comments.

“It was appropriate for her say she’s the best,” Leonard said. “I don’t think she was being rude. I’ve been running track for a long time, so I’ve heard and seen plenty of athletes say something similar, and people don’t take offense to it. It’s all love and motivation in the sports world.”

Biles wasn’t solely speaking for herself in her interview. She was also interested in teaching a message.

“It’s important to teach our female youth that it’s OK to say, ‘Yes, I am good at this,’ and you don’t hold back,” Biles said.

While Biles said this regarding the different responses given to men versus women when they speak on their accomplishments, it’s important to recognize the society also shows white women courtesies that aren’t extended to black women.

World-renowned tennis player Serena Williams often receives backlash for her passionate responses to the outcome of a match. Many of the actions she displays when frustrated are also demonstrated by white women.

Some think the criticisms Williams received have more to do with her race than the outbursts themselves.

“I definitely think black women athletes are perceived differently than white women athletes because black women have that negative stigma of always being mad or aggressive to them already,” Smith said. “I feel as black women we have to watch everything we do especially if you represent a big platform.”

The conversation regarding black women’s success and its acceptance in mainstream media is far from over. Athletes such as Biles and Williams are faced with trials simply based on their gender and ethnic background.

The focus is not centered where it should be: on talent and sport.

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