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Why does Simone Biles wear a goat on her leotard?: Defining greatness in sports and in life

US gymnast Simone Biles wears a goat on her leotard's shoulder sleeve
Simone Biles waits her turn to compete on the balance beam during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. Biles wore a goat laced into her leotard during the competition. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

There is little doubt that gymnast Simone Biles is the best in her field. With more than two dozen Olympic and World Championship medals, she is the most decorated American gymnast in history and is widely considered the best in the world.  

She has won every all-around competition she has entered since 2013. She is expected to win a spot on the USA team at trials beginning tomorrow in St. Louis, qualifying her for the Olympics being held next month in Tokyo, Japan.    

During the U.S. Gymnastics Championships earlier this month, Biles, twenty-four, picked up her seventh national title—more than any other female gymnast. While competing, she wore custom leotards decorated with silver rhinestones in the shape of a goat head, a reference to the athlete being dubbed by many as “the G.O.A.T.,” an acronym for “greatest of all time.” 

What seems at first to be an act of arrogance is actually a statement for “haters.”

Why Simone Biles wears a goat 

“I don’t think of myself as the G.O.A.T. and that’s not why I wear the goat on my leo. It was kind of a joke in the beginning. I wore one in 2019 and it was just funny because the haters were so upset,” she told People in an interview.  

She said the haters “were joking like, ‘I swear, if she put a goat on her leo, blah, blah, blah.’ That would make them so angry. And then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s actually a good idea.’ And so that’s exactly what we did and why we did it.” 

Biles hopes to inspire aspiring young athletes to embrace their talents with no regrets. 

“I just hope that kids growing up watching this don’t or aren’t ashamed of being good at whatever they do. And that’s my problem: when people kind of harp on other people that are good at something,” she continued. “It’s like, everybody can say you’re good, but once you acknowledge it, it’s not cool anymore. And I want kids to learn that, yes, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re good or even great at something.” 

The five-time Olympic medalist is documenting her journey toward the Tokyo Olympics in her new Facebook Watch docuseries Simone vs. Herself, which debuted June 15.  

“I feel like most of the expectations that are on me are from myself,” she said. “I’ve tried not to let anybody else’s expectations impact how I go into a meet or my mindset. I still do the sport because I find joy and it’s what I love.”

What does it mean to be great?

I am glad to know that Simone Biles was not wearing the bejeweled goat as a statement of greatness. I can remember in the 1960s when the most famous boxer of all time caused controversy with his statement, “I am the greatest.” 

Muhammad Ali spoke the words with arrogance before his fight with Sonny Liston. He also said, “Humble people, I found, don’t get far.” And he took his “greatest” statement further: “I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. . . . I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.” 

When the disciples asked Jesus about greatness, he pulled a child to him and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). 

A child doesn’t rely on his own abilities but is dependent on others for direction, help, and resources.  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned about building on the temporary and said that when we do, “there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21). 

When we become self-reliant and self-confident in our abilities, we are less dependent upon God. We do not see the need for his direction and resources. We redefine and repurpose greatness for our benefit and to please society.  

But that type of greatness is fleeting. Looks fade. Disease spreads. Bones break. When our foundation for greatness is built on the temporary, we cannot count on it.  

The prophet tells us about a greatness that is never fleeting: “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might” (Jeremiah 10:6).  

And, in 1 Chronicles, we see God’s glory in greatness: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all” (29:11). 

We can all watch Simone Biles perform this weekend with a dazzling goat on her leotard. But one day, we will see another dazzling display. 

The true Greatest of All Time will have a name emblazed on his robe and his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).  

And everyone will acknowledge his greatness: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  

That is greatness that “has no end” (Luke 1:33).