The rules are wrong.
American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson made headlines after she won the women's 100-meter race last month, officially qualifying her for the Tokyo Olympics.
Richardson cleared 100 meters in 10.86 seconds, her fifth 100-meter race under 11 seconds this season. This sparked speculation that she had a shot at winning the first Gold Medal in the women's race since Gail Devers in 1996. She also won the hearts of fans after a video of her running into the crowd following the race and embracing her grandmother went viral.
Today, however, news broke that Sha'Carri has been suspended from the Olympic team after she tested positive for THC, a compound found in marijuana.
On NBC's TODAY show on Friday morning, Richardson said, "I just want to take responsibility for my actions, I know what I did, I know what I'm supposed to do, I'm allowed not to do and I still made that decision. I'm not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case.
However, many people have expressed a whole lot of empathy for Richardson. The Texan athlete explained that the reason she used marijuana was to cope with the death of her biological mother, who passed away one week before the Olympic trials.
Apparently, Richardson — who was raised by her grandmother — learned about her mother's death from a reporter during an interview. "It sent me into a state of emotional panic," she said. "I didn't know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time."
"We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to put on a face and have to go out in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain," she continued in the interview. "Who are you? Who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain or you're dealing with a struggle that you've never experienced before or that you never thought you'd have to deal with. Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you're wrong for hurting?"
Ironically, recreational marijuana use and possession is legal in Oregon, where Richardson tested positive. However, marijuana is a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and USA Track & Field.
In response to the positive test, Richardson accepted a one month suspension beginning June 28, which means she will miss her chance to run in the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. She may be able to participate in relays if she is picked for the team, but the tragedy of losing such a major opportunity thanks to a stupid and archaic rule has broken many a heart today.
"The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her," said USADA CEO Travis Tygart.
But many people don't feel that Richardson made a regrettable decision at all. Many top athletes have expressed support for Richardson and outrage at the ban. "Weed is NOT performance enhancing," wrote NBA veteran Jamal Crawford on Twitter.
"Queen I support you," wrote WNBA star Natasha Cloud on Twitter. "It's time to break the stigma surrounding athletes use of marijuana. I have my medical card. I play at the highest level my sport has to offer and I use medicinal marijuana for anxiety, recovery, and sleep."
Gabrielle Union wrote, "Weed is great for many a thing but running faster isn't one of them. LET HER RUN!!!"
Weed is great for many a thing but running faster isn't one of them. LET HER RUN!!! #ShacarriRichardson— Gabrielle Union (@Gabrielle Union)1625195386.0
Anyone who has ever smoked marijuana in any context knows that weed doesn't exactly help you run faster. Over the past few decades, marijuana has become less and less taboo for most groups — including athletes, many of whom use it to help with stress, anxiety, pain, and more.
I hate that it took Sha’Carri Richardson losing this incredible opportunity to spark more convo surrounding pain ma… https://t.co/GaT7ImlFZA— Elle Duncan (@Elle Duncan)1625246962.0
"Society continues to rely on athletes to entertain and represent us on some of the world's biggest stages, but when do we allow them to participate in the same cannabis self-care that the rest of the world does?" writes Janessa Bailey for Leafly. "In Richardson's case, it's critical to think about when, as a Black queer female athlete, she is 'allowed' to care for herself in this way. If the answer is 'never,' we are preventing a world-class athlete from taking care of her mental health as she sees fit."
"I'll say this again, 34 states in the US have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. At least, 48 countries (which participate in the Olympics) have also done the same. What are we doing here?" wrote Jorge Sedano.
Am I correct in thinking that if Sha’Carri Richardson had spent a week binge-drinking after the loss of a parent th… https://t.co/xUyV7gFerJ— Jessica Ellis (@Jessica Ellis)1625239226.0
Meanwhile, throughout it all Richardson has been nothing but humble and open, completely owning her mistakes (if you could call smoking legal weed to cope with your mother's death a mistake).
"If I'm allowed to receive that blessing [compete in Tokyo] then I'm grateful for it," Richardson said. "But if not, right now I'm just going to focus on myself." She also promised to keep fighting. "This is just one Games. I'm 21, I'm very young. ... I have plenty of Games left in me to compete in and I have plenty of talent that backs me up, because everything I do comes from me naturally. No steroid, no anything," she said. "This incident was about marijuana, so after my sanction is up I'll be back and able to compete, and every single time I step on the track I'll be ready for whatever anti-doping agency to come and get what it is that they need."
On Thursday morning, Richardson tweeted simply, "I am human," triggering a massive wave of public support.
Many are calling for policy change in response to the absurdity of the whole situation. "Sometimes an event like this should be used as the impetus to change an outdated rule that frankly seems dumb," wrote Robin Lundenberg for Sports Illustrated.
Cannabis is a billion-dollar industry that is legal in 18 US states and in 48 of the countries that compete in the Olympics. It is completely ridiculous that an extraordinarily talented young athlete should be banned from the competition of a lifetime because she smoked a little weed to cope with grief.
The suspension has rubbed many people the wrong way, striking a nerve thanks to the fact that so many thousands of people — a disproportionate number of them Black — are still behind bars thanks to cannabis charges, while cannabis on the whole is raking in the big bucks for disproportionately white CEOs and corporations.
A 2020 ACLU announcement found that Black Americans are 3.68 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the fact that both groups use cannabis at roughly the same level. Richardson's harsh punishment feels eerily reminiscent of the stupid laws and incredibly harsh punishments against cannabis that have completely destroyed so many lives and families.
"White America's growing acceptance and embrace of weed has only highlighted the injustice of the suffering imposed on the Black and brown communities of this country for the exact same behavior over the years," wrote Hayes Brown for MSNBC."Those policies were purposeful, designed to marginalize first Hispanic and then African Americans throughout the 20th century," And the racism inherent in United States drug laws has helped shape a world where international drug policy focused on prohibition is the ultimate goal, often resulting in 'the excessive use of incarceration as a drug-control measure,'" the Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health wrote in 2016.
This is part of why Richardson's suspension stings so much. "Given the current trend in the United States, it may well be that Richardson is one of the last American Olympic athletes to be punished for using cannabis. Isn't that just horribly fitting? A woman who's been celebrated for aesthetic as much as athleticism — her hair, her nails, her spirit — would be tripped just shy of the finish line thanks to an accumulated century's worth of structural racism in drug policy."
Between Sha’Carri Richardson and this, the Olympics really are sending quite the message to black women https://t.co/1mMmNK37Qd— Jemele Hill (@Jemele Hill)1625248669.0
a whole field of african women reclassified as 'not women' to exclude them from competing on the running track, the… https://t.co/5ZlVvSPwbK— Stan Cross (@Stan Cross)1625235131.0
So let me get this straight: the cannabis industry is projected to rake in $70 billion by 2028, but thousands of pe… https://t.co/tU02Vc8Xry— Robert Reich (@Robert Reich)1625253140.0
Richardson's suspension also drew comparisons to Michael Phelps, who was allowed to compete in many Olympics races despite various DUIs and marijuana incidents over the years. (Phelps did receive a three-month suspension when an image of him smoking a bong went viral online, but the suspension didn't overlap with the Olympics). Still, the double standards aren't too hard to spot.
In addition, Richardson's suspension reminded some of the other absurd reasons women have been banned from competing in the Olympics. "The disqualification of outstanding female athletes from certain events in advance of the Olympics has ranged from absurd (Shelby Houlihan suspended over a substance she attributes to a tainted burrito), to eye-roll-inducing (Sha'Carri Richardson testing positive for marijuana, which she used after learning of the death of her biological mother) to incredibly subjective and invasive (Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi being barred for naturally high testosterone levels)," wrote Sidney Matthews in a letter to the editor in The New York Times.
Again, Michael Phelps has a genetic mutation preventing his muscles from fatiguing as quickly as an average person'… https://t.co/AIB3Nghbp5— Andreas (@Andreas)1625231111.0
Others decried identity politics entirely, arguing that the simple absurdity of the situation is enough to provoke outrage. "If you're afraid of Sha'Carri smoking the brakes off y'all, just say that but suspending people for using marijuana — a billion-dollar industry at this point — is ridiculous," journalist Evette Dionne wrote. She added, "I see people attempting to turn this into a 'Black Americans vs. everybody' issue. Let's not. Sha'Carri deserves to run, no matter what country she represents."
As usual, The Onion had the last word:
Dream Crushed Over Trivial Bullshit Represents Nation Better Than Gold Medal Ever Could https://t.co/Eqd0kSuPMg https://t.co/np6RYhy8Ai— The Onion (@The Onion)1625244317.0
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