By Mecca Fowler
The young woman the media so graciously celebrated has now become the center of controversy.
Sha’Carri Richardson, a 21-year-old Dallas native, made headlines in June when she won first place in the 100-meter dash during an Olympics qualifying event. This win secured her spot on the United States Women’s team for the Tokyo Olympics.
Her win provided a boost in spirit to Black women across the country. Many outlets raved about how she crushed her competition, her bold appearance, and more. The track star was pretty much poised to be a favorite at the Olympics.
The moment felt larger than life as everyone cheered her on. One of the most unforgettable moments was captured in a viral video of her falling into her grandmother’s arms from exhaustion after her run. It touched many people’s hearts and tugged at our emotions. To add onto the matter, Richardson just found out her mother passed away a week before the race.
“This year has been crazy for me. Going from just last week, losing my biological mother, and I’m still here. … Last week, finding out my biological mother passed away and still choosing to pursue my dreams, still coming out here, still here to make the family that I do still have on this earth proud.” Richardson said.
“I’m highly grateful for them. Without them, there would be no me. Without my grandmother, there would be no Sha’Carri Richardson. My family is my everything, my everything until the day I’m done.”
Fast forward to early July and many things have changed for the young track star. After testing positive for marijuana, she earned a 30-day suspension from the sport. Additionally, her eligibility for the Olympics was threatened too.
Richardson’s dismissal sparked considerable outrage since marijuana is legal in many states and has been considerably decriminalized in those that aren’t. Some people weighed in about the rules and if it was fair to suspend her. Others made petitions to get her reinstated. Some even went as far as calling for boycotts over the incident.
Some other people, however, even cited concerns of racism. That could be because this past week we’ve seen back-to-back headlines of black women in sports appearing to get the short end of the stick.
Regardless of how the public feels about marijuana or doping sanctions in the Olympics though, Richardson took the news with humility and accountability. She didn’t feed public backlash and acknowledged her error, even before the details became public. Although, she did allude to the passing of her mother as a possible reason for her marijuana usage.
“(I’m) not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case, but, however, being in that position in my life, finding out something like that, something that I would say is probably one of the biggest things that have impacted me … that definitely was a very heavy topic on me,” she said on the Today show.
Her ability to take accountability instead of embracing victimhood is admirable in a world where it’s easy to do the latter. Though the rule may be antiquated, it’s still a known rule among athletes.
But even though she held herself accountable, others went out of their way to make excuses for her actions.
Recently, there’s a tendency to make excuses for a public figure’s behavior or blame things on racism without evidence. It speaks to the overall symptoms of victimhood culture within our society. Many people in this country don’t take well to being held accountable if something doesn’t go their way. So, it came as a surprise to some that she accepted the outcome of her actions while they were busy creating alternative narratives to soothe their sore egos.
Some of the public outcry is understandable. After all, many people were invested in seeing her win at the Olympics. They saw representation through her and clung onto her character.
However, they should also find representation in what a public figure taking accountability looks like.
Blaming racism in this situation doesn’t help anyone because when there aren’t facts to prove it. Ironically, it weakens the definition of racism and gaslights the pursuit of other real injustices.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the incident racist when she penned a letter to the World Anti-Doping Agency on July 2nd.
“We worked with @RepRaskinand the Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties to formally ask @USAntiDoping to end Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension. Their decision lacks any scientific basis. It’s rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws,” she tweeted on July 2nd.
While there is some validity in her statement, it would be ignorant to dismiss what led up to Richardson’s suspension. It’s unfortunate she can’t compete this year, but these rules are applied broadly to athletes. Unless we can find a case where an athlete tested positive for drugs and didn’t receive the same treatment, we can’t categorically say this incident is racist.
In fact, when people tried to spin this narrative, they found that quite the opposite was true. Some compared Richardson’s situation to a Michael Phelps incident in 2009. But they soon learned he was vilified in the media and his repercussions were worse.
When a photo of Phelps using a bong was released to the press, it sent the media into a frenzy. The picture was reportedly taken in November 2008, almost three months after the events he competed in August 2008. It wasn’t released until February of 2009 the year following him collecting 8 gold medals. Further, he never actually tested positive for marijuana. The Olympics were already over by the time the public found out.
Both athletes confessed and apologized for what they did. The show of support Sha’carri has received has been very uplifting from the public, and the organizations she’s a part of.
“Sha’Carri Richardson’s situation is incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved. Athlete health and well-being continue to be one of USATF’s most critical priorities and we will work with Sha’Carri to ensure she has ample resources to overcome any mental health challenges now and in the future,” United States Track and Field (USATF) said in a statement.
This is vastly different from how companies treated Phelps. He lost a large deal with Kellogg’s following his incident. Meanwhile, Richardson still has her sponsorship from Nike as of date. More so, they’ve shown support and applauded her accountability.
This further proves the point that we should tread lightly using racism as a talking point. Unless it can be concretely proven that there’s a pattern of racism or discrimination within an institution, it’s useless.
Instead, we should look at all the facts objectively the next time a major news story like this comes out. Lastly, we should start to encourage a culture of accountability from all races and genders, not only when it benefits our preconceived biases.
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