Those that are heavily invested in the world of athletics have likely already heard the news of Sha’Carri Richardson and her suspension. Richardson is a professional sprinter from Dallas, Texas, rapidly racing right past everyone’s expectations. Hopes were high for her by the end of June 2021, when she ran the 100 m dash in just 10.86 seconds. Her fans were soon envisioning the track star’s upcoming Olympic success.
However, Sha’Carri Richardson did not attend the 2020 Olympics. A positive marijuana test led to a 30-day ban on her professional athletic performance, as well as kept her off the USA Track and Field’s Olympic roster completely. It is well known by the athletes that, regardless of the legality of the drug in the state they are in, cannabis is banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. This rule was well-known to Sha’Carri Richardson herself, and she has accepted this setback as just one small part of her story.
However, one thing that can easily be seen from this story is how easy it is for others to pass judgment. As soon as the news came out, everyone was taking a side, laying their claims to judgment one way or the other. But this suspension is not a simple dividing line of morality. It is just a small part of several larger narratives.
In short, there is more to it.
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More to the Career and Life of Sha’Carri Richardson
Richardson is a young track star from Texas who has been racing towards her Olympic dreams for quite some time now. In her youth, she won for her speed and discovered this dream. It followed her to university, where she was part of the LSU Lady Tigers Track and Field team. Then, after finding success at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she went on to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics and soon found the spotlight shining right on her.
Of course, while she is primarily known by the public for her incredible athletic abilities, there is much more to the woman than her athletic career. Like all other athletes, she has her own personal responsibilities and passions as well.
Two of the passions she has been most public about are self-expression and her love for family.
Sha’Carri Richardson very much finds it important to express herself. She does so particularly through vibrant and noticeable hair colors, which she has mentioned correlating with the way she’s trying to feel. Whether she’s rocking blue hair or a stunning red tone, those hair color choices and stylish nails always let her stand out and express herself.
Beyond everything else, though, what matters most to Sha’Carri Richardson is her family. This was brought to the attention of her fans in one special moment at Omaha’s Hayward Fields. After achieving the Olympic trials, Richardson ran into the stands to embrace her grandma, Betty Harp, with emotion. Her grandmother played a large role in raising her, helping to shape Richardson into a woman who prioritizes family above everything else.
Family, in fact, was tied up with this suspension. Richardson admitted to using marijuana to deal with difficult emotions around the death of her biological mother.
Understanding Her Use of Marijuana
While at the Olympics Trials in Oregon, where marijuana does happen to be legal, Sha’Carri Richardson received the news of her biological mother’s death from a reporter at a press conference. This was the cause of such an emotional state that she attributes to her decision to use marijuana. While she knew the rules, she also knew how cannabis can have emotional effects, which she desired at that time.
She, herself, recognizes that she made a mistake and that she did so because she is human. Her words on NBC’s Today show were, “In some type of way, I was trying to hide my pain. Don’t judge me because I am human. I’m you. I just happen to run a little faster.”
This incident is another part of the story around athlete mental health. It is easy to forget that professional athletes are also still just people. They have their struggles. Sometimes, those struggles impact their career. Sometimes, athletes simply have to put their mental health first, as we also saw in the headlining story of Naomi Osaka. As Dominique Dawes said on the matter, “You have to think about these athletes as human and to recognize that they will be affected emotionally.”
Essentially, mental health struggles and even setbacks such as the suspension faced by Richardson are almost never a person’s full story. As we look closer, it is apparent that this is the case here as well. This is not all there is of Sha’Carri Richardson and this will not be the end to her story.
More to the Future of Sha’Carri Richardson’s Career
After her 30-day ban and missing the Tokyo Olympics, her story continues with the chance to compete in the 100 and 200 meters at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon in August of 2021. And we can look forward to an athletic career continuing to play a large part of the story of Richardson’s life.
She has acknowledged this suspension as a mere setback to her dreams, saying in her apology, “This is just one Game. I’m 21, I’m very young. … I have plenty of Games left in me to compete in, and I have plenty of talent that backs me up because everything I do comes from me naturally. No steroid, no anything. This incident was about marijuana, so after my sanction is up, I’ll be back and able to compete. Every single time I step on the track, I’ll be ready for whatever anti-doping agency to come and get what it is that they need.”
More important than failure and success in an athlete’s career, though, is what we find when we do look closer. Looking closer at this suspension, we find Sha’Carri Richardson. Looking closer when any athlete is in the headlines, we will find a person.
Leaving More Room for Understanding of All Athletes
Professional top-performing athletes are so often seen as greater than human. Yet, they don’t truly have super speed or super strength – just talent and training. They are human beings, and like all the rest of us, they have emotional struggles and mental health journeys. And they make mistakes.
If we can look beyond the headlines, we can understand better the humans behind them. For any case such as this one, the most important quality we can find ourselves possessing is compassion. After all, looking closely at this incident primarily brings one truth to the forefront: the humanity of athletes.