Simone Biles Executes a Tricky New Move: Mental-Health Champion

The star gymnast continues her pivot from legendary athlete to emotional health advocate, announcing a new partnership.

Olympic Games, Gymnastics

10/21/2021 4:00:00 PM

Simone Biles “expected a lot more backlash” after taking herself out of the Olympic team final. She got love, support—and a lot of offers from mental healthcare brands, a burgeoning market.

The star gymnast continues her pivot from legendary athlete to emotional health advocate, announcing a new partnership.

, which embraced her as a leader who took care of herself. Other athletes praised her bravery. And her previously undefined post-Olympic plans suddenly had a glaringly obvious focus: mental health.“I expected a lot more backlash than I received,” said Biles. “I received an outpouring of love and support.”

The nearly two-year-old Cerebral aims to use data to match prospective patients and clinicians more efficiently across the country. It currently has around 2,000 licensed clinicians, working an average of 26 hours a week, and also employs care counselors with healthcare backgrounds, who are trained over a period of weeks to handle some interactions with users but are not licensed to treat them directly.

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her new apparel partner Athleta , which embraced her as a leader who took care of herself. Other athletes praised her bravery. And her previously undefined post-Olympic plans suddenly had a glaringly obvious focus: mental health. “I expected a lot more backlash than I received,” said Biles. “I received an outpouring of love and support.” The nearly two-year-old Cerebral aims to use data to match prospective patients and clinicians more efficiently across the country. It currently has around 2,000 licensed clinicians, working an average of 26 hours a week, and also employs care counselors with healthcare backgrounds, who are trained over a period of weeks to handle some interactions with users but are not licensed to treat them directly. As it tries to market itself to more prospective patients, providers and health plans, founder and chief executive Kyle Robertson hopes that having Biles will be one way it can set itself apart. Simone Biles’s withdrawal from competitions at the Tokyo Olympics has put renewed focus on mental health in sports. WSJ looks at how the stigma and treatment for athletes’ state of mind has shifted. Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters (video from 729/21) Robertson had been in the hospital for several weeks with a vicious case of pneumonia when Biles was competing in Tokyo. Awake at odd hours, he watched the team final from his bed. “Like everyone at first, I was just confused,” he said. “As she began communicating what was happening and that it was a mental thing and not a physical thing necessarily…that really resonated with me personally because I’ve dealt with things myself where it’s hard to explain. And you don’t really feel comfortable explaining why you didn’t do something if it is mental, because you’re worried about people reacting in a certain way.” For someone as admired as Biles to say all this, he thought, was even more significant, and so was the recognition that she seemed to be receiving. “I don’t think that would have been true in Athens [at the 2004 Olympics], for example,” he said. “That was really a powerful moment.” A few days later, he called an executive and some board members to tell them he really thought Cerebral should go after Biles, whose story had clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, across different demographics. Simone Biles performs in a Wonder Woman outfit during her Gold Over America Tour. Photo: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images Biles said that she picked Cerebral among various suitors because the idea of being able to access therapy from anywhere appealed to her—especially as she returned to the Olympic competition and prepared for an exhibition tour she planned to headline, which also includes mental-health themes. “It’s obviously not what I expected,” said Biles. “But to know that I can help a lot more people globally going through their own mental health journeys and to know that they’re not alone and that we’re doing this together is really helpful and it means a lot to me.” Write to Louise Radnofsky at Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8 Show Conversation