Should Sha’Carri Richardson Have Been Suspended?

If Sha’Carri Richardson had a beer before her U.S. Olympic team tryout, she would be going to Tokyo this summer for the Olympics. Instead, she used cannabis, and will not make the trip.

The track runner tested positive for marijuana use, which she apparently used on the eve of her Olympic trial in June. In doing so, she did something that is now legal to millions of people across more than a dozen states. That includes Oregon, where the track and field trials took place.

However, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) gave her a one month ban from the sport as a punishment, and also kept her off both the 4 x 100-meter relay and the 100-meter race.

Richardson, a Dallas native who rose to fame on the track team at Louisiana State University, said she used cannabis before the trial to relax. She was dealing not only with the pressure of qualifying, but also the recent death of her mother.

Many Athletes Came Out to Support Richardson

People immediately leapt to Richardson’s defense. Richard Sherman, who won a Super Bowl playing cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks, said he felt “very proud of this young woman but so frustrated at the place we are as a society. She is dealing with one of the greatest personal losses anyone could ever have to deal with in the midst of trying to accomplish one of the most difficult feats.”

In an interview with ESPN, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who also has won a Super Bowl, said “to not let her be at the Olympics at all is pretty ridiculous to me.”

One of the most blistering reactions came from Erik Altieri, executive director of cannabis-advocate group NORML. In a press release after the suspension, he said it has never made sense to disqualify athletes for marijuana use outside of competition.

“In 2021, at a time when marijuana use is legally accepted in a growing number of US states and around the world, it makes exactly zero sense for regulators to continue to take punitive actions against athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson or anyone else who chooses to consume cannabis in their off-hours,” he said.

All these thoughts echo what athletes have been saying for years: leagues should make cannabis use legal for players in all sports, because it is effective for pain management and relief from anxiety.

A Change in the Rules

A comparatively small number of people came out in favor of the ban. For example, former Olympian Dominique Dawes said “rules are rules” and that Richardson should have followed them. However, she also added that people should follow the rule “because it is a current rule.”

That seemed to put the focus where many wanted it – on changing the rules.

While people expressed disappointment that President Joe Biden, who favors decriminalization rather than legalization of cannabis, did not come out in support of Richardson, his press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN that the rules need to be reexamined.

“It’s sad to see this be the end—it’s not the end, I should say. It’s maybe the beginning of her story. We know the rules are where they are. Maybe we should take another look at them,” Psaki said.

For her part, Richardson has admitted to making a mistake and said she is ready to move forward with her career. She’s also been cheerleading on the U.S. team, even without being on it, on her Facebook page.

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