Michael Phelps spoke out in defense of Team USA gymnast Simone Biles tonight on NBC, and his comments during the network’s ongoing Olympics coverage prompted an outpouring of support on social media.
Phelps is working for NBC as a commentator and correspondent during the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games and said during a live broadcast Tuesday night that he understands why defending Olympic women’s gymnastics champion Simone Biles decided to abruptly leave the games this week.
Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics after a faltering start on the vault, and later said in a statement she left because her mental health was “not there.”
Phelps said, “we carry a lot of weight on our shoulders, and it’s challenging especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations being thrown on top of us.”
He added, “we’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and down and emotional rollercoasters. The biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help when we go through those times. … It was hard for me to ask for help.”
“I hope this an eye-opening experience for Americans, it’s so much bigger than you can imagine. It’s going to take time and hard work as we support our athletes in this,” Phelps added.
Biles has seen her fair share of trauma throughout her Olympic career in addition to the typical pressure on an Olympian; She came forward in 2018 as one of the more than 100 girls and women who were sexually abused by former team doctor Larry Nassar. Biles also disclosed in her new documentary series “Simone Vs Herself” that she almost quit the sport altogether after first learning the Tokyo Olympics wouldn’t take place in the summer of 2020 as planned.
Phelps’ support struck the right chord with many viewers who also seemed sympathetic to Biles’ situation online. Phelps has been open about his mental health journey after he was notoriously suspended for six months in 2016 after being arrested for a DUI.
“Michael Phelps as a guest analyst is one of the best things to come out of NBC’s coverage,” sports reporter Richard Deitsch tweeted. “Along with his insight into mental health, he’s shown a unique ability to explain race strategy/technique/breakdown in a way a layperson can understand.”
The 28-time Olympic medalist also won people over with his passionate support for women’s Team USA swimmer, Katie Ledecky.
Although Phelps is the most decorated male swimmer in the world, he said he thought Ledecky could have bested him in the pool. “I had the privilege to train with her at the last training camp, in 2016. I’m very happy that she didn’t do the exact set with us that day because she would’ve destroyed me,” Phelps said earlier in the week. “Oh my gosh, her long course, when she trains — oh, she’s incredible.”
Check some reactions to Phelps’ remarks below. We’ll update this with the full video as soon as it’s available.