“Who is that girl?” was my initial thought when I saw that first picture of Sha’Carri Richardson being shared on social media. With her thick, curly eyelashes flowing in the wind and her well-manicured inch long nails, I was excited to see her on the screen and hear of her accomplishments. Not only was I proud of her, but I was proud of the representation. Her tattoos, her nails, the fact that she represented the values and culture of the communities I had grown up in. And here she was, putting us in a different light. Flourishing, with all our accessories that had been labeled “unprofessional” all along. She was changing the narrative, and for that, we salute her.
Shortly after, we hear that she may no longer be able to compete in the Olympics because she tested positive for marijuana. Everyone reacted somewhat differently to this news. Many called for the rule to be changed, or for her behavior to be excused. She was understandably going through a lot, having just lost her mother. Personally, I wanted to see her compete. Her energy alone was enough for her to win my support, but does that mean I wanted them to ignore the rules that many other athletes have been expected to follow? Or should we call for them to change the rules?
The use of recreational marijuana is now legal in 19 out of 50 states, including the state in which Sha’Carri was residing when she used the substance. These recent changes in laws represent the fact that times are evolving, and maybe the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list needs to be altered to reflect these changes as well, but in order to really support that, we need to understand why marijuana is on that list in the first place.
Reason for No Marijuana Rule
Many have questioned whether or not marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug. In short, it can be. The chemicals in marijuana have sedative effects. It relaxes people, and there are some sports in the Olympics, like archery in which a more relaxed state is beneficial to the athlete. For that reason, it can be considered performance enhancing. That does not mean it would have been performance enhancing for Sha’Carri, if anything, as many have pointed out, it would have worked against her, by slowing her down.
Still, we need to recognize that the Olympics is a worldwide event. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has to enforce the same rules for everyone who participates in this international event. It would be impossible to go through and personalize each rule for each person and their specific sport. Additionally, WADA and the Olympics don’t want to set the precedent of excusing behavior based on personal problems because they would have to show everyone that same mercy going forward, and that kind of leniency is unsustainable.
Call to Boycott the Olympics
In the light of Sha’Carri’s ban from the Olympics, many black celebrities have spoken up in her favor. Some have even gone as far as calling for us to boycott the Olympics. Should we boycott the Olympics? Should we ignore all the other amazing black athletes who worked equally as hard as Sha’Carri has, to get where they are? Are the Olympic and WADA in the wrong for enforcing this rule? Boycotting the Olympics seems a bit excessive, and I don’t have the answer for the other questions, but I will say Sha’Carri’s incident is about much more than this one rule.
Prioritizing our Mental Health
I am neither upset nor disappointed in Sha’Carri. I continue to be proud of her and celebrate her. Nonetheless, I have another perspective on her issue. I know many people who use marijuana recreationally. It’s just a part of life, and for some, even a part of their culture. It’s not uncommon for people to turn to a substance, such as marijuana, in times of stress. Especially if it is something they’ve used before, and found it comforting.
I believe that was the case with Sha’Carri. She admitted she was aware of the rule, yet she broke it. That doesn’t mean she wanted or intended to break it. Having recently lost a parent myself, I understand the need to find a way to cope. I believe that’s why Sha’Carri may not have denied herself the peace she found using the substance, regardless of how temporary that peace may have been. And at the time of her use, I’m sure her emotions were too tied up in many other things for her to consider the long-term consequences of her actions. So, when she apologized, when she stated that she’s only human, I accepted her apology and forgave her, because patience and understanding is what she needs right now, even more than a medal at the Olympics.
The black community hasn’t been the best at finding healthy and sustainable ways to cope with our mental health. It wasn’t until recently that I, myself, learned about the importance of taking care of my mental health. That’s why I would say Sha’Carri fell victim to our culture. And what needs to happen now, is instead of calling to boycott the Olympics or to change the rules, we need to support and encourage each other to find other ways to take care of ourselves and our mental health. The Olympics will always be around. The rules may change, or they may not. But life will always throw us curve balls and it’s more important that we have the tools and coping mechanisms to deal with them when they come at us.