When it comes to athletes, no one cares about your pain.
So much is clear after listening to all the discussions on sports radio and TV and reading comments across social media this week since Sha’Carri Richardson was dropped from the U.S. Olympic team after testing positive for marijuana.
On Tuesday, Richardson’s last hope of taking part in the Tokyo Games in the 4x100m relay, scheduled to end after her one-month suspension, was dashed when she was released USA Track and Fields list of 130 people to this month’s Summer Olympics.
One point of conversation that is repeated over and over again is that Richardson has accepted his punishment and everyone just needs to move on. But what was she to do? Do not accept the sanctions? Fight against the US Anti-Doping Agency, USATF or the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee?
All she could do after seeing her sensational results from the U.S. Olympic trials disqualified was to say she was sorry.
“I’m sorry,” Richardson said on NBC’s Today show. “As much as I am disappointed, I know that when I step on the field, I not only represent myself, I represent a community that has shown great support, great love. … I apologize for the fact that I did not know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time. ”
“We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to take a face on and have to go out in front of the world and take a face on and hide my pain,” Richardson said. “Who are you? Who am I to tell you how to cope when you are dealing with a pain, or if you are dealing with a struggle that you have never experienced before or that you have never experienced? “thought you had to deal with. Who am I going to tell you how to deal with? Who am I to tell you that you’re wrong to hurt?”
Richardson’s significant admission that she had self-medicated to cope with her birth mother’s death in the days before the American trials was met with a surprising insensitivity and lack of compassion from the talking heads across sports and general news media, many of which have returned to the same points over and over again:
“What kind of example does she set as a celebrity?”
“Should we bend the rules because someone has a sob story?”
“We have rules for the norm, not for the exception.”
“It is unfortunate that she initially tried to rationalize this. She had a good reason, but that’s not enough to justify violating restrictions. ”
“She knew the rules, she broke the rules, the end of the discussion.”
Interestingly, many critics who now declare that “rules are rules” tend to be the same people who loudly and proudly violated public health guidelines of wearing a mask or social distance during a global pandemic. Or the same people who refuse to respect the results of a democratic voting process and hold on to a false claim that the November election was stolen from Donald Trump despite zero credible evidence of electoral fraud at all. But I differ!)
This week, I spoke with former NBA player Al Harrington for my show Rematchen. Harrington, whose firm Viola Exracts is one of the country’s leading producers and authorized wholesalers of high-quality cannabis products, argued that marijuana was in fact not a performance enhancer and therefore should not be on the banned list in any sport. He highlighted the contrast between addictive opiates that were thrown out like candy in professional sports, but an organic pain management alternative like marijuana is illegal. He recalled how he was given an anti-inflammatory drug called Celebrex and instructed to take two in the morning and one at night most of his career; only years later, the FDA demanded that Pfizer, the drug manufacturer, withdraw Celebrex from US pharmacies because its risk of heart, stomach and skin problems clearly outweighs the benefits.
Harrington also discussed the irony that Richardson won the trials in a state where marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use. He told Usada and USOPC to reconsider what he called a very “outdated” rule, especially as many countries around the world now accept cannabis in one form or another in their countries. He discussed the benefits of the plant’s medical point of view, not only for athletes but also everyday people dealing with anxiety, depression as well as joint pain.
But what stood out most for Harrington was the lack of compassion for Richardson, which he saw in the general tenor of media coverage.
“You have to think she should be really short,” he said. “She knew she was going to run in four or five days, she knew there was a chance she could test the dirt, she had to be really low at that moment to say, you know what, I have to either do this or I must do it, and her that was probably much more harmful to her health. It should tell you she was in a bad place.
“I lost my father when I was eight, and I remember what it did to me. I can imagine what she’s going through. And are you going to compete then? ”
“Yes, rules are rules, and I will always admit that. But it is time for us to change this old, outdated rule. Sha’Carri Richardson smoking weed for four or five days dealing with her mother’s death did not make her run 100 meters in 10.65 seconds. ”
As I came to know in my own NBA career, the reality is most people don’t care what athletes go through personally. They just want them to perform at an optimal level and that’s all they care about. Entertain me and keep your problems and troubles to yourself. If you are asked to speak to the media, who cares about your depression or anxiety? Just do your job, Naomi Osaka. If your mother just died, who cares how you feel, Sha’Carri Richardson. These are the rules and you better not break them.
Let me be clear: I do not advocate anyone breaking anti-doping regulations that exist there for a reason. But certain situations like Richardson’s need to evoke a sense of compassion and nuance that at best lead to a reassessment of the rule itself, but at least serve as a reminder to fans that athletes are actually human.