News & Politics

Olympic Hopeful Sha'Carri Richardson Knew the Rules and She Broke Them. Don't Blame Her Suspension on Racism

P Photo/Ashley Landis

U.S. Olympic sprinting hopeful Sha’Carri Richardson has been suspended for one month by the U.S. Olympic Committee for failing a drug test taken during the Olympic trials in Oregon last month. Richardson would have challenged for a gold medal in the 100-meter dash.

She may still run in Tokyo as part of the 4X100 relay team, but that would be a coach’s decision and she is just one of several possible candidates.

Richardson was banned for testing positive for cannabis. She says she smoked marijuana to deal with the pain of losing her biological mother the week prior to the test. But, according to MSNBC’s Hayes Brown, the real reason she was banned was due to racism.

It’s both heartbreaking and infuriating that this is happening to her, a 21-year-old woman whose unapologetic Blackness shines through every inch of her. Instead of competing to be the best in the world, Richardson is the latest Black American whose future was put at risk because of arcane and racist drug policies.

It is indeed heartbreaking that a great athlete deliberately put her Olympic dreams at risk by getting high so close to the competition. She had to know that the cannabis would remain in her system, detectable in any drug test for at least 28 days.

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Why should it affect her suspension that her “Blackness shines through every inch of her”? Why is that even relevant? As a professional athlete — and since Nike has her under contract, that’s exactly what she is — she knew the rules governing competition. She broke the rules. There is a penalty for breaking the rules whether you believe they’re “racist” or not. If you believe they’re racist, change them.

Richardson accepted responsibility for her suspension, underwent counseling, and apologized to her fans.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” she said. “I’m not looking for an excuse.”

“I would like to say to my fans and my family and my sponsorship, to the haters, too, I apologize,” she said. “As much as I’m disappointed, I know that when I step on that track, I don’t represent myself, I represent a community that has shown me great support, great love.”

Why she “needed” an artificial crutch in the first place to “deal” with the loss of her mother is a question that should be asked of Mr. Brown, who thinks it’s racist to require athletes to refrain from recreational drug use prior to their competing.

Under the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code, marijuana and other cannabis products are now considered “substances of abuse,” alongside cocaine, heroin and MDMA. This is a bit of progress compared to the 2019 edition of the code, which still treated weed as a banned substance entirely versus a product that has the potential to be abused outside of competition. But it mirrors the place marijuana still holds under federal law; as a Schedule I drug, it’s treated as just as addictive and dangerous as drugs that kill thousands in overdoses every year.

As someone who was clinically diagnosed as psychologically addicted to marijuana, I beg to differ about whether the drug is dangerous. According to the latest research published by the CDC, one in ten users become addicted, and that number rises to one in six under age 18.

Marijuana use damages every vital organ in the body, and chronic use over time leads to brain damage. The reason that it was legalized is that it’s impossible to enforce any laws that ban it. But that doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that it’s “safe.” Smoking or ingesting it alters the user’s consciousness. And even though it is “less addictive” than opioids, cocaine, or heroin, the idea of legalizing it just because it won’t kill you as quickly as an overdose is absurd.

But as government policy, it’s sensible to decriminalize or legalize marijuana use. Should that affect performance standards for athletes? Using a substance to relax or deal with emotional stress may not be performance-enhancing in the strictest sense, but a body at rest recovers more quickly and functions better in competition.

Richardson is not a “victim” in any sense of the word. She knew exactly what she was doing and knew the penalty. The idea that “racism” tripped her up is ludicrous and infuriating. The fact that the rules may be changed soon has nothing to do with her case. Mr. Brown and others defending the indefensible are playing the race card because that’s all they have.

And it’s despicable.