Reaction Over Sha'Carri Richardson Disqualifying for Tokyo Overshadows Olympics Itself
With calls for boycotts, signed petitions, and public outcry, the star athlete's weed issue is all anyone is talking about.
Along with the highs of a long summer holiday, the controversy over American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification from the Tokyo Olympics had everyone buzzing over the Fourth of July weekend.
Losing her spot in the women’s 100 meter race because she used marijuana before qualifying was one thing. Placing blame on her use of cannabis was another. The latter is what garnered the most condemnation from celebrities, sports stars, musicians, and politicians from across the country.
Setting Twitter ablaze
Noted weed enthusiasts like Seth Rogen and Tommy Chong were among the first leading the charge on Twitter. “The notion that weed is a problematic ‘drug’ is rooted in racism,” Rogen, who also owns a stake in cannabis brand Houseplant, said. "It's insane that Team USA would disqualify one of this country's most talented athletes over thinking that's rooted in hatred. It's something they should be ashamed of."
After Richardson apologized for using marijuana to cope with the news of her biological mom’s passing, Chong wrote, "No need to apologize for using God's medicine! Bulls--- unjust antiquated rules."
Comments continued to pour in, with support from actor Kerry Washington to musician and director Questlove, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Pharrell, former NBA baller Dwayne Wade, and American soccer star and fellow Olympian Megan Rapinoe. There was also a MoveOn.org petition to “Let Sha’Carri run,” and revisit “outdated rules around marijuana and athletes,” that garnered over 500,000 signatures.
“We all know why weed was criminalized in the first place but that’s besides the point,” Questlove Tweeted. “She owned up to the ‘rule break’ but that’s besides the point. I do wanna know if the 'no enhancement' committee still wants to die on that hill knowing good & well it doesn’t make you faster.”
Politicians weighed in
Politicians also had something to say — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. President Biden acknowledged Richardson’s apology, but simply said “the rules are the rules.” The President still hasn’t committed to legalizing marijuana at the federal level; there is both bipartisan support and opposition for passing legislation.
Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) sent a letter to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency encouraging the group to rethink the sprinter’s one-month suspension.
"The ban on marijuana is a significant and unnecessary burden on athletes’ civil liberties. [The World Anti-Doping Agency] categorizes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active chemical in marijuana, as a prohibited competition substance,” Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin said. “However, according to WADA’s own medical director, Alan Vernec, '[t]here is no evidence for cannabis use as a performance-enhancing drug.'"
They also expressed concern for anti-drug laws and policies that have “historically targeted Black and Brown communities while largely condoning drug use in white communities.”
Why weed is banned...and why it shouldn't be
The World Anti-Doping Agency indeed lists marijuana as one of its performance-enhancing drugs. While it can have both energizing and sedating effects, the agency says it could be seen as a relaxation aid ahead of something like the U.S. trials. It also claims it’s banned, along with other substances, “because they are frequently abused in society outside of the context of sport.”
In other words: Weed is bad, man. Elite athletes don’t do drugs.
That view is of course totally bunk and wholly outdated. Several countries now allow either medicinal or recreational use of cannabis, and 36 states in the U.S. have passed legislation for both — including Oregon, where Richardson legally used cannabis.
Recent polls have shown up to 90% of Americans support federal legalization. Research constantly touts its benefits for everything from PTSD to treating pain in the elderly. It should no longer be a banned substance for athletes in any sport.
Unfortunately, for Richardson, what’s done is done. After she lost her spot in the 100 meter race, there was hope she could still compete in the relay if she was chosen for the team. It was finally announced that she was not, leaving her completely out of the Tokyo Olympics.
While understandably disappointed, she took responsibility and apologized (warranted or not) for her actions. The athlete is still taking it all in stride.
“I’m sorry, I can’t be y’all Olympic Champ this year but I promise I’ll be your World Champ next year,” she said in one of her last Tweets on the matter.