Olympics

A Texas deputy attorney general called Simone Biles a ‘national embarrassment.’ His boss publicly disagreed.

A day after Aaron Reitz attacked Simone Biles, Ken Paxton chastised "one of our employees" for making "a very inappropriate and insensitive tweet."

Simone Biles withdrew from both the gymnastics team and individual all-around finals in this year's Olympics, citing mental health reasons Doug Mills / The New York Times


A conservative media publisher on Tuesday posted a video of Kerri Strug’s gritty performance 25 years ago, when the legendary gymnast battled through a serious ankle injury to help the U.S. women’s team on its way to winning Olympic gold.

“The great ones find a way,” the publisher wrote on Twitter.

The message was unsaid but clear: Simone Biles – who has withdrawn from both the gymnastics team and individual all-around finals in this year’s Olympics, citing mental health reasons – was not great.

For anyone who didn’t connect the dots, a Texas deputy attorney general did it for them.

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“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Aaron Reitz wrote in a tweet that quoted the original about Strug.

Biles, a fellow Texan, is the most decorated gymnast of all time, with 31 Olympic and world championship medals. Explaining why she withdrew from this week’s Games, Biles cited the overwhelming pressure to perform, the stress of dealing with pandemic life and a sudden onset of “the twisties” – a dangerous condition in which a gymnast becomes disoriented while flipping and twisting through the air.

Other Texas conservatives joined Reitz in criticizing Biles, according to the Houston Chronicle. A conservative radio host in Dallas wrote a column about how the gymnast’s decision “reveals our softened world.” The head of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility tweeted a video of a robot at the Olympics sinking a basketball shot from half court, saying “they will never have to take a mental health day.”

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Reitz’s boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, was not one of them. A day after Reitz attacked Biles, Paxton chastised “one of our employees” for making “a very inappropriate and insensitive tweet.”

The tweet from the Attorney General’s Office account included more from Paxton: “I know Simone Biles – she is a fantastic athlete but an even better person. Mental health is far more important than any athletic competition and I fully support her decision.”

Six hours later, Reitz deleted his original tweet and apologized on Twitter: “I owe [Simone Biles] an apology. A big one,” he said, adding that he spoke out of turn in “frustration and disappointment.”

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“I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through. Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time. I apologize to her, and wish her well.”

Right around the time Reitz was using Strug’s 1996 performance to call Biles “selfish” and “childish,” Strug was posting her own tweet about the most decorated gymnast in history.

“Sending love to you @Simone_Biles,” Strug wrote, adding emoji of a heart and a goat to signify GOAT, or greatest of all time. “Team UNITED States of America.”

During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Strug was the last Team USA gymnast to compete in the vault, the final event of the team competition. In her first of two attempts, she hurt her ankle so badly she had to be carried to the medal ceremony.

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Still, she persevered. In her second attempt, Strug sprinted toward the vault, hit the springboard and flew into the air. She landed almost entirely on her good leg, then hopped on one foot to stay upright, before collapsing in pain. The crowd exploded in cheers.

Team USA took the gold.

After Biles withdrew, former Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, who also competed in the Atlanta Games on a women’s gymnastics team dubbed the “Magnificent Seven,” compared the decision to one she made 25 years ago. In 1996, a 14-year-old Moceanu broke her leg when she fell during the balance beam event and was then “left alone w/ no cervical spine exam.” A few minutes later, she competed in the floor event.

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“@Simone_Biles decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health-‘a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian,” Moceanu said Wednesday in a series of tweets. “She made the right decision for the team & herself.”

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