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The issue with Sha'Carri Richardson & the cancel culture

You may have heard of the phenomena of cancel culture. Cancel culture by definition is the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure. It includes the mass withdrawal of support from public figures, companies, organizations or celebrities who have done things that aren't acceptable today.

This edition of Beyond Insight centers around Sha’Carri Richardson and the Olympics. Richardson, is a bright young star that recently exploded in the international sports scene with a remarkable performance in the Olympic Trials held in Eugene, Washington.

Richardson won the gold medal by completing a 100-meter race in just 10.84 seconds. Richardson became a sensation and got widespread support from the sports community and fans alike. Shortly afterwards, she was disqualified from the Olympics set to take place in Tokyo, Japan after THC was found in her bloodstream. Fans around the world are already wondering out loud if the decision is a fair one and if the Olympics should be the next target of withdrawn support. Is it reasonable to target the Olympics after this decision? What makes this situation different from others like it? Let’s take a closer look because clearly, Sha'Carri is not the one being targeted by the cancel culture, but instead the crosshairs are on the Olympic committee or the games themselves.

Rules are rules, but some rules are outdated and out of step with today’s reality. Travis T. Tygart is USADA CEO, he says “the rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her”. Tygart is right on some levels but can be challenged on others. At Only 21 years of age, Richardson is a very young woman who is among the very best and most gifted athletes in the world. When athletes this young are faced with the stresses that come with global exposure, instant fame and extreme competition on a world stage, errors in judgement are often made. Richardson accepted a one-month period of ineligibility that began on June 28, 2021, the date of her provisional suspension.

Some may not realize that Richardson’s period of ineligibility was reduced to one month because her use of cannabis occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance. This is an important element to fans of the track star that feel that her suspension is unjust. Additionally, she successfully completed a counseling program regarding her use of cannabis. Her one-month period of ineligibility is the minimum allowed under the rules. It is the same result as the two other Substance of Abuse cases that USADA has handled since the 2021 Code took effect.

The suspension of Olympic hopeful Sha'Carri Richardson over a positive marijuana test has sparked comparisons with other Olympic athletes who have also used the drug. Sports fans may remember Michael Phelps being caught using marijuana months after the 2008 Olympics after a photograph of him holding a bong was published. There is a huge difference in the cases. Phelps didn't test positive for marijuana during the competition period. Richardson consumed marijuana during the prohibited period. Phelps was indeed penalized, but the Olympics had already occurred.

Hypocrisy in sports institutions treat different athletes in different ways. There are such things as legal gray areas, for example, marijuana use is legal in the state of Washington where the trials took place and where she admitted to smoking. The guidelines and rules need to be addressed and adjusted to fit the times. Marijuana continues to become more mainstream. States began legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, before Richardson was even born. That means that marijuana has been legal all of Richardson’s young life. Again, we remind you that marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug.

Without the fans that support the international spectacle, the Olympic games really don’t matter. Fans today are more vocal, visible and influential in making a stand on issues that they feel are unfair. They can and often do make a statement by supporting or not supporting the institutions that may not be aligned with today’s views, standards and cultural perspectives. This is after all the age of the canceled culture, and even the Olympics are not immune.

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