By Rachel Zimny
Image taken from Sha'carri Richardson's Instagram
Sha’carri Richardson, a rising athlete who some are calling the fastest woman in America, has been disqualified from performing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for THC. There’s a lot to say about this, but first I’ll tell you the facts.
Sha’carri is a dark-skinned black woman, she is queer, and she is a runner for Louisiana State University. She’s known for her vibrant style and individuality on the track, frequently showing off her tattoos, wearing colorful wigs and beautiful, long nails. She is also one of the fastest sprinters around, running a 100m in 10.72 seconds, the sixth fastest in history.
She, understandably, is incredibly popular among fans for who she is in addition to what she does.
Within the past few months, Sha’carri was offered a spot in the Olympics for the American team in Tokyo this summer. Very soon after, her biological mother passed away. In a TV interview, she explains that she didn’t find out about this tragedy on her own, but was told by a reporter. Jarring.
In the week that followed, she spent some time in Oregon, a state that recently legalized weed and decriminalized many drugs. She says in that same interview that she smoked in order to cope with the loss of her mother even though she knew the rules. Subsequently she failed the drug test and lost her spot in the Olympics.
Many athletes through the years have been caught abusing drugs like cocaine or steroids in order to improve performance in their respective sports. I don’t have to name anyone in particular to jog your memory. It seems like there’s always a scandal. There’s continually “crack downs” on sports and athletes in order to restore some fairness but nevertheless the problem persists.
For the Olympics specifically, there is an autonomous drug enforcement agency called the WADA— World Ant-Doping Agency— that monitors all athletes performing. WADA is notorious for ancient drug policies and even reviewed their codes earlier in the year, although they didn’t make significant changes around weed guidelines despite more and more states legalizing recreational usage. Also, it’s not exactly like weed is a performance-enhancing drug like steroids. You’re more likely to get distracted or paranoid than run faster while high. Not to mention, Sha’carri smoked while nowhere near a competition. THC can take a long time to leave the body as it gets stored in fat cells. Even someone who consumes marijuana very rarely would still test positive for THC after a few days of sobriety.
Sha’carri issued a public apology and owned up to her behavior. She was still removed from competing. Despite her explanation. Despite the fact that she used a legal drug in a state where it is legal. Due to WADA being far behind of their drug policies and the US being confused as a whole as to if weed should be legal or not, she lost the opportunity of a lifetime.
This is a textbook example of systemic racism. Anti-weed legislation started in the 1930s as a way to police Black people in this country. It is only within the last 15 years that states have started to peel back their policies on this. Of the ones who have legalized it, many have not purged the records of anyone who has been arrested on marijuana charges. Most people who become incarcerated for weed-related “crime” are Black. Obviously, not every person who uses cannabis is Black, but due to over-policing and continued discrimination by the police, Black people are continuously persecuted for it. It is correlational.
And Sha’carri Richardson is Black. Unapologetically so. Her personal style features staples of American Black culture. Her nails, her hair, her eyelashes all are trends set by Black women. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Olympics rescinded their offer completely. Sure, they’ve given white drug using athletes a slap on the wrist before— here’s looking at you, Michael Phelps— but to be so comfortable completely stripping an athlete’s ability to start their career is unbelievably harsh. Had Sha’carri been a white woman by the name of Sharon Applegate, I don’t think she would’ve been punished so harshly. WADA being behind on their marijuana rules is not a failure on their part, it’s intentional.