It’s getting pretty hard to imagine too many people working in sports media who don’t know what Simone Biles looks like. And that was before she clinched her spot as the most decorated gymnast in history last week at the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
Widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles basically made it official last week when she increased the number of her world championship medals to 37, 23 of which are gold medals.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to ensure that the photo accompanying a Wall Street Journal article about her dominance was actually her.
The WSJ initially posted their story to X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday night.
Readers, including Biles herself, were quick to notice a problem. The gymnast used in the photo was not Simone Biles.
this picture isn’t even me…….. try again https://t.co/2OnBDCyJyE
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) October 9, 2023
“This picture isn’t even me…….. try again,” Biles wrote with a link to the since-deleted post.
The photo in question was actually of Shilese Jones, a fellow U.S. gymnastics star who is herself a two-time U.S. National Champion on uneven bars and the 2022 U.S. National Champion on floor exercise.
— KD (@Fly_Sistah) October 9, 2023
The Wall Street Journal deleted the tweet and fixed the photo in the article so that it was actually Biles. The outlet also not only reposted the article on X but shared that they had misidentified Biles in the initial version.
With 37 world and Olympic medals now, Simone Biles added to her extraordinary legacy at the world championships in Belgium (the photo in an earlier post, now deleted, misidentified a gymnast as Simone Biles) https://t.co/vjWMZVLQGi pic.twitter.com/g3Uqjaj2ye
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) October 9, 2023
A note was also added to the bottom of the article on the site.
“A photo that appeared with an earlier version of this article misidentified gymnast Shilese Jones as Simone Biles,” read the note. “The photo has been removed. (Corrected on Oct. 9).”
People of color being misidentified as someone else in news articles and publications has long been an issue in fields dominated by white editors and writers (and continues to be an issue for artificial intelligence). Given the sensitive nature of the error, even people who shared the initial post found themselves in an uncomfortable position. That includes ESPN/ABC commentator Kathy Johnson, who apologized for sharing the initial version.
My heartfelt apology for sharing something that was clearly insensitive to @Simone_Biles and every Black athlete who has had an incorrect photo assigned to them. It was unintentional, but I accept responsibility for seeming not to know better, especially when I actually DO know.
— Kathy Johnson Clarke, OLY ??? (@kathyjohnsongym) October 9, 2023
The shame is that it’s a glowing article about Biles’ success and feats, though the photo error is likely to be what will be remembered.