The Spirit of Sport made Sha’Carri Richardson a Living Martyr

Watching the hypocracy of Sha’Carri and her punishment unfold has been challenging. Right out the gate, President Biden’s response is tone deaf as ever on the subject. Throwing in at the end that he is proud of her response, which was her acceptance of responsibility and apology. Biden, a long time “law and order” type, saying, “The rules are the rules and everybody knows what the rules were going in.” It goes without saying this industry would not exist without people being willing to break the rules. So, yes, “the rules are the rules.” Without people being willing to break the rules, nothing meaningful would ever change.

We are not trying to downplay anything or suggest sweeping anything under the rug. But, if we are going to talk about sweeping, let’s talk about the most famous sweepers, curlers. Curlers are able to freely drink alcohol before and after their competitions, including in the Olympics. In “the Spirit of Curling,” there’s a tradition for the losers to buy the winners a drink. This tradition has been followed before and after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed alcohol from its prohibited list in 2018.

Obviously, cannabis is still on WADA’s prohibited list or else Sha’Carri would have not been suspended for a month. But, for something to be added to the WADA Prohibited List, it must meet two of the three inclusion criteria:  a) it poses a health risk to athletes b) it has the potential to enhance performance and c) it violates the spirit of sport.

In 2011, WADA published a paper in Sports Medicine discussing the reasons cannabis meets the criteria. Below are excerpts from this publication that address the three criteria:

  1. “Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”
  2. “Based on current animal and human studies as well as on interviews with athletes and information from the field, cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”
  3. “Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.

There is an abundance of research on the effects of cannabis on the human body. When it comes to cannabis and health risks, we are still not fully certain of the effects of cannabis on the body. We do know that is safer than alcohol. At least one President had the strength of character to say that. In addition, there is an abundance of proof in international research on cannabis’ medicinal benefits.

Whether cannabis causes “increased risk taking” is highly subjective and if anything would be on a case by case basis. Former NBA player, Matt Barnes, admitted to using cannabis before basketball games, which at least anecdotally, challenges the view that the plant slows down reaction times. And if cannabis can be considered a performance enhancing drug then so should caffeine. One of the world’s most popular drug, used to get us moving quicker and thinking sharper, regardless of the fields and courts we practice in. WADA rolled back their draconian view on caffeine and let athletes enjoy one cup of coffee a day. In the end, WADA talks out of both sides of its mouth, saying cannabis can hinder your performance in criteria one, and then saying cannabis be a performance enhancer in criteria two.

Finally, the “athlete as a role model” and the “spirit of the sport,” is the shallowest reason why Sha’Carri was suspended. We hold our role models to high expectations and unrealistic standards. Instead of trying to humanize the person, show how relatable and attainable that role is for a person to achieve, we want to make them larger than life. We would rather mystify the figure like a Greek goddess, then publicly display a character flaw to make them a tragic hero. As a goddess you cannot fly too high, or else they will try to melt your wings and bring you down to earth.

But that is what we loved about Sha’Carri because she was so down to earth. She reminded you of the kids racing in the streets barefoot. She reminded you of the girl from the hood. And the fact that she smokes a little weed from time to time to ease her mind, reminds you of what you already know and experienced: cannabis is not a hinderance or an enhancer to your success, just something you should consume in moderation. Just ask the curlers and their beer consumption. Perhaps no one cares what they do, because society does not look to them as “role models.”

It’s time for other role models to stand up and act for our country. Our American track queen is facing penalties and consequences for using a drug medicinally, not to enhance her performance. We should not sit on our hands and let the world try and destroy someone’s American dream. While others are living their American dream making millions of dollars legally selling the same plant that Sha’Carrie smoked. End the prohibition and contradiction on cannabis. And if you are one of those industry members, tell the WADA to grow up.



Ken Ford

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