Sha’Carri Richardson is a Victim By Tyler Beraldi
“Don’t judge me, because I am human. I’m you. I just happen to run a little faster.”
The year is 2021. Legal age stoners can quite literally have pre-rolled joints delivered to their house at the click of a button, deep-pocketed Wall Street moguls can safely invest in dispensary stocks to expand their profit margins, and superhuman olympians can get hit with the banhammer for toking up after a day of intense physical exertion. Or better yet, after attempting to cope with the sudden loss of their own mother.
Such is the plight American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson is faced with after receiving a 30 day suspension from the USADA due to a failed test for marijuana. Given Richardson’s exceptional talent and surefire shot at gold honors, this suspension has provoked outrage from onlookers en masse, with countless commenters wondering why marijuana, a non performance enhancing drug, is even being tested for in the first place.
We’re only a few years removed from Michael Phelps quite literally getting caught ripping bong in 4K, and a lot of the United States, including the state of Oregon where Sha’Carri supposedly indulged in the wacky tobacky, has since legalized the drug for recreational use, alongside the loosening of restrictions from a variety of sports leagues such as the NBA and NFL. From the perspective of the USADA, the key facet of the conversation is that while “a lot” of the United States has legalized marijuana, at a federal level, the plant is still considered a schedule 1 drug, leaving it in the same class as heroine, bath salts, mescaline, and basically everything else you’d see in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Now that the “how” is out of the way, the obvious question here is why, since anyone who’s ever smoked weed in their lives will tell you that while it may be a performance enhancer for Super Smash Bros and buffets, olympic sprinting, especially days removed from sparking up, would be completely unaffected, if not inhibited, and in terms of health, the physical downsides for moderate usage are unclear to say the least. Unpacking the can of worms surrounding the federal marijuana ban is an effort too large to accomplish here, but what can be said is that these laws are backwards products of a bygone era, and largely based in ignorant, if not outright discriminatory ideologies.
Unfortunately, on a federal level, things don’t appear to be changing anytime soon, so in the immortal words of Stephen A. Smith, Olympic athletes will be forced to “stay off the weed” for the foreseeable future. Clearly, in the USADA’s eyes, Sha’Carri Richardson should’ve done the healthy thing following her mother’s death, and found solace in drowning her liver and her sorrows in whiskey, or turned her cries into coughs with some relaxing cigarette drags.
With the stigma surrounding marijuana so blatantly persistent today, it’s of no surprise that we see so many athletes across all mediums of entertainment succumb to their demons, whether taking the form of alcoholism, addiction, or depression. With a swath of medicinal, pain relieving properties for both the mind and the body, even if weed wouldn’t solve everyone’s problems, because it surely wouldn’t, if the option of smoking and watching movies was available, rather than ostracized juxtaposed to hitting or popping a bar, who’s to say to what ultimately fatal habits could’ve been curved?
Former world champion boxer Shannon Briggs, for instance, has claimed that marijuana not not only saved his career, but saved his life as well, as after a variety of medications failed to combat his depression, he found that sparking up was his preferred antidote. Mike Tyson, another publicly troubled world champion, similarly claims that marijuana has helped alleviate pains both physical and mental in the aftermath of his fighting career, to the point where he now runs his own cannabis farm, aptly titled Tyson Ranch.
As a final example, former professional wrestler Rob Van Dam had similar sentiments to share, coming from an industry that although is not considered a competitive sport, involves physical pain to such a degree that painkiller or drug related deaths have all but become a macabre staple, constantly looming over the business as the death tally accumulates annually. Van Dam, now selling his own cannabis paraphernalia similar to Tyson, said his reasoning for advocating so heavily for the plant was that he was “tired of losing friends” due to painkiller overdoses and mental illness, and that there’s a pretty good chance cannabis even saved his own life.
Olympic sprinting, professional boxing, and professional wrestling are three extremely different athletic ventures, but at the end of the day, all involve intense stress on the mind and the body. While in the past, athletes were confined to the boxes of alcohol, painkillers, and antidepressants, there’s been a movement toward cannabis acceptance in major sports, with incidents such as Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension carrying forth the silver lining of conversation and awareness.
In Sha’Carri’s words, “Who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain or you're dealing with a struggle that you've never experienced before or that you never thought you'd have to deal with. Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you're wrong for hurting?"
Our athletes are hurting. Our athletes have been hurting. It’s not a matter of if they’re going to seek extracurricular means of coping, it’s a matter of how. In serving out suspensions for non performance enhancing, medicinal properties such as cannabis, all the USADA is doing is limiting the options available, and funneling these extraordinary humans into unhealthy habits.
At the end of the day, even the most otherworldly freaks of humanity are just that, human, and until we can grant people the ability to deal with their struggles as they see fit, the ever expanding list of “what ifs” in professional sports will continue to grow.