By LELAND STEIN III, For The AfricanAmericanAthlete.com
Watching the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, I could not help but think about a petition I recently got proposing a boycott from watching the Games in solidarity with Sha’Carri Richardson. What?
This once every-four-year grand experiment is the world’s most serious and best attempt at collectivism. Watching the parade of over 200 nations enter under the same roof reminds us all just how big the world actually is, and people with different skin hues and wildly opposite traditions and cultures can find common ground.
That alone is worth celebrating. One doesn’t even have to factor in that Olympians are competing in the most significant event of their lives under extreme COVID conditions that have prompted local authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete with no fans in the stands, and the ‘Climate Changing’ record producing heat in Japan. Still, the Olympians are ready to bolt through a minefield to compete.
Don’t believe me? What about five-time Olympian Jackie Edwards from the Bahamas.
Recalled Edwards: “Just watching the Opening Ceremony, I was reminded of the honor, the pride, the joy, and the feeling of accomplishment that I had as an athlete when I walked into the stadium, representing my country. All the years and years of hard work and sacrifice coming to fruition in one beautiful moment when you emerge from the tunnel into the bright lights of the stadium. I’m so excited for the athletes from around the world as they finally get to realize their dream.”
Indeed what happened to Richardson took the wind out of my Olympic sails. How could you not like the brash 21-year-old sprinter with tons of swag? She was expected to star at these Tokyo Games but failed her drug test right after winning the women’s 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The positive test for marijuana nullified her first-place finish and disqualified her from the event in Tokyo. Richardson accepted a one-month suspension that began June 28 and expires soon, July 28, before track and field events start in Tokyo.
USA Track and Field could have selected her for a relay team, but its rules require it to enter the top three finishers at trials in the 100. And Richardson is no longer one of them.
“The rules are clear,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said, “but this is heartbreaking on many levels.”
Well, if she cannot participate, there are just too many male and female Americans that deserve all our attention.
The over-emphasis on Richardson is diluting the fantastic efforts of an outstanding group of other Black women that will represent USOC in Tokyo.
What about Gabby Thomas, who set a record in the 200, and she graduated from Harvard with a degree in Neurobiology and is completing her masters at the same school in epidemiology with emphasis on racial health disparities.
What about Crystal Dunn (soccer), Ashleigh Johnson (water polo), Michelle Moultrie (softball), Simone Manuel (swimming), Coco Gauff (tennis), Allyson Felix (track) Chiaka Ogbogu (volleyball), just to mention a few?
They all qualified and stayed clear of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) stated banned substances.
I have covered four Summer Olympic Games and several trials over 30 years and months leading up to the trials. Every coach and trainer goes over the list of banned substances and reviews it with their athlete. The entire talk leading up to the Games is about staying clean, and the consequences for not doing so are examined. When one reaches the World-class level as an athlete, they are drilled about the seriousness of the Olympic Trials and the banned substances tested for, period.
It gets worse.
One national writer, I will not name, declared the Olympics are racist against Black women because of how it has treated Richardson. What?
That article about the Olympics and Black women was way off base. The Games have been a coming-out party for Black women going back to Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, Dominique Dawes, the Williams sisters, etc. al. The Olympics were one of the first places Black female athletes could shine in America.
American colleges always downplayed women’s sports until the AIAW was founded in 1971 and thrived on a shoestring budget until 1978 when federal courts forced universities and the NCAA to comply with Title IX. Riding the wave of Black and White female Olympic athletes, people began to appreciate the amazing athletic efforts of the ladies, but showcasing female athletes started first at the Olympics.
The NCAA was 40-years behind the Olympic Games in recognizing female athletes. Even the Olympics had its problems early on, not letting women hurdle, run marathons, or pole vault.
Are the Olympics are racist against Black women? Have you ever heard of Alice Coachman? Well, before black people could drink from the same water fountain in America, live in white neighborhoods, had to sit in the back of the bus, or could not go to school with our white brothers and sisters, Alice became the first black woman to earn an Olympic gold medal, winning the high jump at the 1948 Olympics.
Unfortunately, for African-Americans, we have no room to scream race when it’s not. It diminishes the very real and hard-fought battles we have endured in the U.S. for equality. Especially in today’s climate of snatching voter’s rights and overt racism. We don’t need smoke screens clouding the issues of racism and making the broad landscape of America’s violent history of segregation and oppression an even more debatable issue.
I love Richardson, but she is not our Rosa Parks, although she is a young sister that I want to succeed badly, and I love her swag, but she is not our Rosa Parks.
I think people are starting to recognize that cannabis can have a place in society, and it is about time. Yet, there are thousands of Americans still in jail for Cannabis, and, sadly, it still is a federal crime. Time should change all that, but the Olympic Games are not just American legislated; it is an international event that governs – the IOC – all attending nations’ testing.
Enjoy the World’s best attempt at fellowshipping and uniting all the nations, if just for a fleeting moment.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter@LelandSteinIII