Let Sha’Carri Richardson Run

Richardson's spot at the Tokyo Olympics might be in jeopardy after testing positive for marijuana

Let Sha’Carri Richardson Run
Image:Patrick Smith (Getty Images)

Sha’Carri Richardson became a national sensation when she dominated the Olympic qualifying 100-meter race in June, acrylics and all. But now her Olympic spot might be taken just because she tested positive for marijuana.

The New York Times reports that Richardson’s positive test automatically invalidated her results in last month’s event. According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Richardson agreed to a one-month suspension, which the Times notes “could clear her in time to run in the 4×100 meter relay that takes place later in the Games.” But that’s only if she’s named to Team USA.

In an interview on the Today show Friday, a visibly upset Richardson admitted that she takes full responsibility for her actions, but provided context to why she consumed marijuana in the first place: When she was in Oregon for the Olympic trials, she received news that her biological mother died suddenly. Richardson said the news “triggering” and sent her “into a state of emotional panic.”

“That was a very heavy topic on me, and people don’t understand,” Richardson said. “To put on a face and go out in front of the world and hide my pain… who am I to tell you how to cope when you’re… dealing with a struggle that you’ve never experienced before, that you never thought you’d have to deal with.”

It is legal to consume marijuana in the state of Oregon, but the USADA prohibits its use in competitions because of its “performance enhancing” potential. The USADA official website cites the following 2011 findings from the World Anti Doping Agency to justify their marijuana ban:

1. “Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”
2. “Based on current animal and human studies as well as on interviews with athletes and information from the field, cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”
3. “Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.

Alcohol and caffeine could also apply to many of these descriptions, but athletes are allowed to drink coffee and consume alcohol. The idea that someone is a bad role model because they smoke a joint sounds more like drug war fear-mongering than anything.

Even worse, the job of “role model” tends to be particularly loaded for Black women. It’s bad enough for the dominant culture to force average Black people to act as representatives for their entire race whenever they step foot outside the house, and the pressure increases tenfold for Black people in the public eye. Famous Black women, in particular, are constantly derided for not being good role models. Rapper Lil’ Kim complained about it back in the ’90s and her musical offspring—from Cardi B to Megan Thee Stallion—are complaining about it in the 2010s. In the sports world, tennis superstar Serena Williams has been lambasted repeatedly for daring to have emotional outbursts, when her white (and especially white male) counterparts have done far worse without being labeled a “bad influence.”

And now, it’s Richardson’s turn.

“I am a human,” Richardson tweeted. But until the USADA launches itself into the 21st century, Richardson will instead be treated like some kind of criminal.

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