Simone Biles may be most famous for dominating the gymnastics world, but she has also used her position as America’s sweetheart to speak out against injustices, including bias against athletes with atypical mental health.
When hackers broke into the World Anti-Doping Agency database (WADA) and attempted to undermine Biles’ athletic achievements using her medical history, she fought back against the stigma surrounding mental health issues in sports (via Olympic Channel). According to ESPN, the data breach revealed her longtime use of Ritalin, a stimulant drug commonly prescribed to manage symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
WADA does include stimulants on its list of prohibited substances. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Ritalin for treating ADHD in children and adults (per MedicalNewsToday). Athletes can be granted exceptions for approved drugs that are considered performance-enabling, rather than performance-enhancing, according to ESPN.
As the most decorated gymnast in history, Biles holds a unique position when it comes to representing fairness in sports. With 19 medals documented by the Academy of Achievement, the world champion gymnast takes her responsibility to play fair seriously.
Simone Biles is not ashamed
“I have ADHD and I have taken medicine for it since I was a kid,” Biles explained via Twitter. “Please know, I believe in clean sport, I have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and is very important to me (via NBC Washington).”
The Academy of Achievement says Biles started taking Ritalin after receiving an ADHD diagnosis at a young age. The Academy explains that the same energy and enthusiasm that made her a star gymnast posed challenges in the academic arena. The prescription medication helped her focus, bolstered by organizational support from her mother, Nellie Biles.
Additionally, USA Gymnastics knew about Biles’ use of Ritalin before the data breach. It confirmed that Biles had been granted an exemption due to her medical condition (per ESPN).
Dr. Ronald Kamm, a member of USA Gymnastics’ national health care referral network, remarks on athletes taking therapeutic medication, “It’s not personal. It’s the condition,” Dr. Kamm told ESPN. “Prescribing medication for an ADHD child is no different from prescribing insulin for a diabetic.”
In a further response to critics, Biles followed up her initial statement. “Having ADHD and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know,” she continued to say via Twitter:Simone Biles Confirms Split From Boyfriend Stacey Ervin Jr. After 3 Years: ‘It Was for the Best’