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‘I couldn’t imagine just being silent’: Jayson Tatum comes out in support of Simone Biles

United States' Jayson Tatum (10) drove to the basket during the men's basketball preliminary round game against Iran at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Wednesday in Saitama, Japan.Eric Gay/Associated Press

SAITAMA, Japan – Jayson Tatum can be a man of few words. He reserves his emotions and his expressions for particular moments, and one of those moments occurred Tuesday night in Tokyo when American gymnast Simone Biles backed out of the team competition for mental health reasons.

Tatum watched Twitter as reactions poured in after Biles made her unprecedented decision, including that of conservative radio talk show host Charlie Kirk. In a video that has garnered 2 million views, Kirk said, “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.”

He also called her “selfish,” “immature,” and “a shame to this country.”


Those insults prompted Tatum to respond on Twitter hours before Team USA faced Iran in an opening round game at Saitama Super Arena.

He wrote on Twitter: “Is it that hard to be supportive and empathetic to what others are going through? This is someone’s daughter and her health [you’re] referring to. Wonder if he has kids and how he would feel as a parent someone talking about his kids this way. Cause I’d be DAMNED. Simone is a hero!”

Tatum has more than 802,000 Twitter followers but mostly retweets basketball-related information or photos. Before this tweet, he posted four times in all of July, so a reaction like this is rare. And he said it was warranted.

“From a perspective of a parent, I could only imagine if my son was on a public stage like that and dealing with mental health issues and problems of (his) own and wanted to get help for that,” he told the Globe after Team USA’s 120-66 win. “Seeing someone degrade and ridicule your child, like I feel like that would make anybody angry and feel some type of way. From that stance, that why I said what I said.”


Tatum said it was difficult to see such harsh criticism for someone who has openly admitted to struggling with mental health.

“I’m sure that person (Kirk) if he has kids or not, he would probably feel the same way,” Tatum said. “I couldn’t imagine just being silent and someone talking about Deuce (his son) like that.”

Tatum said he and his teammates heard the news about Biles’s decision when the news broke about 9 p.m. local time. The world reaction has been both supportive and critical, with several professional athletes coming out in support of Biles, considered the best gymnast in the world.

“I saw (the reaction) on Twitter, and it made me angry,” he said. “And I felt like I wanted to say something.”

Biles announced Wednesday in Japan that she was declining to participate in the individual all-around final, an event many around the world had been anticipating because Biles was the defending gold medalist. It’s uncertain if Biles will compete in the individual events that begin Sunday. Biles won five medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.