Opinion | Sha’Carri Richardson’s Drug Test and Our Cruel Standards for Athletes

Sha’Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old American sprinter whose breakout victory within the 100-meter sprint on the U.S. observe and area Olympic trials in Oregon final month remodeled her into an in a single day star, posted a plaintive message on Twitter on Thursday afternoon: “I am human.”

What she was referring to turned clear when information broke that the United States Anti-Doping Agency was suspending her for a month, after she examined optimistic for marijuana. Ms. Richardson says she used the drug after a reporter informed her in regards to the loss of life of her organic mom. (Recreational marijuana is authorized within the state of Oregon, the place she was on the time.) Now, she’s out of the 100-meter sprint on the Tokyo Olympics.

In her tweet, Ms. Richardson identified the plain, and but it wanted to be stated: She is human. Olympians are able to superhuman feats of athleticism — however does that imply we should punish them after they show to be fallible like the remainder of us, in any case?

Sometimes it appears that evidently approach. The finest athletes on the planet are already below extraordinary stress to carry out — however we require extraordinary conduct from them in components of their lives that don’t have anything to do with their sports activities.

Of course, marijuana is a banned substance. Athletes are accountable for all the pieces they put of their our bodies, and for guaranteeing they adjust to the principles. Ms. Richardson knew it’d jeopardize her Olympic future.

“I’m not making an excuse or looking for any empathy,” Ms. Richardson informed the “Today” present Friday morning, as she apologized to her followers, her household and her sponsors. She acknowledged that the information of her mom’s loss of life had thrown her, and defined the stress of getting to “go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain.” She added, “I know that I can’t hide myself, so at least in some type of way I was just trying to hide my pain.”

It is devastating to think about the lengths that our greatest athletes go to deal with their ache. Tiger Woods, who examined optimistic for marijuana, ache medicines and sleep medicine when he was arrested for driving below the affect in 2017, stated he was affected by insomnia and ache from his fourth again operation. Suzy Favor Hamilton, the nine-time N.C.A.A. champion, suffered from despair after she retired from her athletic profession; it led to scandal following the revelation that she’d been working as an escort. Olympian Raven Saunders talked lately about eager to drive off the street two years after the 2016 Olympics. Michael Phelps has been public about his psychological well being struggles for years. (A photograph of him smoking marijuana was revealed in 2009; he misplaced a sponsorship from Kellogg’s.)

We don’t simply count on our Olympians to be unbelievable athletes. We count on them to be position fashions and to stick to impossibly excessive ranges of self-discipline, work ethics, and sportsmanship that don’t have anything to do with their precise job. Women, particularly girls of coloration, face even larger expectations.

Gwen Berry, a observe and area Olympian who’s dealing with criticism from conservative lawmakers for turning away from the American flag on the medal podium through the nationwide anthem on the Olympic Trials, informed me Ms. Richardson was being held to an inconceivable normal.

“When you are a young Black athlete, and when you come from hardship, the first thing you need is people to support you, and not just capitalize off you, off your potential,” Ms. Berry stated. “She made a bad decision because of pain, because of trauma, and she’s a girl — she still needs help. Instead she’s being punished.”

Part of the problem is the principles themselves. Anti-doping insurance policies on the nationwide and world ranges, whereas well-meaning and meant to catch cheaters, are complicated, and they’re typically outdated. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibition of marijuana is greater than a decade outdated; marijuana has gained extra acceptance since, and is authorized in lots of states.

It’s additionally value noting — although it wasn’t the problem in Ms. Richardson’s case — that assessments at the moment are so delicate, they will choose up hint quantities of banned substances from sudden sources, as small as a picogram, or trillionth of a gram. That means contamination in our meals or prescription drugs can result in optimistic assessments for athletes who did nothing greater than take a superbly allowable treatment or eat meat from animals handled with a progress steroid. It’s turning into more and more difficult to keep away from banned substances and nonetheless reside in the true world. (I’ve puzzled how many people mortals would move a doping take a look at if we took one at present.)

The World Anti-Doping Agency made reforms in May, however the system typically presumes that athletes are responsible — excluding them from competitors, typically for lengthy stretches of time — till they will show themselves harmless. That’s not how justice ought to work.

Like many Black public figures, Ms. Richardson is widely known when she succeeds, however many are fast to move judgment when there’s the slightest transgression. Ms. Richardson grew up navigating adversity that’s both abnormal or extraordinary, relying on the place you fall on the American inequality hole — however she persevered. When she signed her skilled contract, she stated her first thought was caring for her household.

For Black athletes, Ms. Berry stated, the stress to be “perfect” is intense. “If we aren’t, we get everything taken from us,” she stated. “We have to work twice as hard in society and in athletics, we’re not respected otherwise. … We have no room for error. We have no room to grieve. We are not supported. And that’s the problem. It’s because we are not equal.”

Ms. Richardson has accepted the ban, so anybody rooting for the principles must be glad. But a system that punishes athletes for being human is just not a simply system.

Lindsay Crouse (@lindsaycrouse) is a author and producer in Opinion. She produced the Emmy-nominated Opinion Video sequence “Equal Play,” which introduced widespread reform to girls’s sports activities.

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