None of us can know what internal doubts are tearing at Simone Biles in Tokyo. None of us can know what struggles beset Naomi Osaka earlier this year at the French Open. So, it is not for us to judge them or other world-class athletes for the decisions they make regarding their mental fitness to compete.
But we might want at least to thank them for advancing a discussion that has implications far beyond the arenas of international competition.
There is, let's acknowledge, some danger in seeing Biles' decision to step away from the Olympics gymnastics team competition or Osaka's to step away from the Open as reactions to the outsize pressures of striving for elite achievement under the glare of global scrutiny.
Under such extraordinary conditions, we may naturally think, even extraordinary self-assurance and training could falter.
But it's not the size of the stage that is at issue here but the health of the performer. In that sense, the issues confronting Biles and Osaka are not that different from those confronting any of us in our daily lives. They worked and trained their entire lives to compete on that stage and, in fact, accumulated immense successes there.
Then suddenly, they found themselves without the mental resources they needed to perform their best.
They need to get healthy again, no less than if they'd suffered a sprained muscle or broken bone. But admitting to a mental rupture is very different from acknowledging a physical injury, and that is why the acknowledgment is so important -- and so relevant to all of us, whatever the size of the stage on which we do our work and live our lives.
Although society has made great strides, mental health remains a sensitive topic and mental illness a "closet disease," whose sufferers feel beset by the judgment and misunderstanding of others. The inability to confront mental health issues -- and the readiness of many people still to ridicule those who do -- leads hosts of victims to suffer alone or to forgo treatment or self care that could help them heal.
Michael Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian of all time, created the Michael Phelps Foundation in 2010 to advance mental health issues. He has talked openly about the mental health challenges he has faced and the need for greater openness on the subject. He saw both Osaka's and Biles' decisions as opportunities for improvement throughout society.
On Biles, he told NBC, "I hope this is an eye-opening experience ... I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open."
We join him in that hope. Likewise, we join compassionate people around the world in the hope that Biles, Osaka and anyone enduring difficulties no one else can know will get the help they need and return to the form that enables them to be their best selves.
And we thank them all for showing that personal health -- mental or physical -- is more important than public judgment.