Sha’Carri Richardson continues to make headlines during Olympic Trials. The 21-year-old track phenom cooked competitors in the 100-meter dash June 20 with a time of 10.86 seconds in Eugene, Oregon. The time qualified her for the Olympic Games — Richardson had one of the fastest times among all qualifiers, with only Jamaica’s Fraser Price holding a swifter mark.
Richardson was set to dazzle and carry the United States to a potential gold medal in the Tokyo Games — something an American woman hasn’t accomplished in the 100 since Gail Devers in 1996.
However, that hope disappeared as Richardson tested positive for marijuana last month. The positive test earned Richardson a one-month ban from competition and Team USA omitted her from the 4x100 relay team. Folks on social media piled on saying she should have followed the rules, that she blew an opportunity.
Why did Richardson decide to break the rules shortly before the Olympic Trials and possibly face life-altering consequences? Well, days before her race, Richardson learned of her mother’s death through a reporter.
“I was just thinking it would be a normal interview,” Richardson said on the Today show on July 2. “But to hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering, it was definitely shocking.”
Her mother's death doesn’t absolve her of responsibility, but I’d wilt if a stranger broke the news that my mom died. Instead of crumbling, Richardson coped by smoking weed (not performance enhancing) and then blazed her competition.
But society seems to have missed the bigger message — the one about supporting those struggling with mental health and loss. In the past three weeks, Richardson's ridden an emotional rollercoaster while processing her mom’s death and missing the Olympics. Nearly everyone reading this has lost a parent or loved one. That likely was followed by days, weeks, months, perhaps years, of struggling to handle a new normal. Facing fresh anguish, society asked a 21-year-old to explain herself to the world. It's shameful and disappointing.
Instead of judging Richardson, we should be helping her and others in her situation. Nike, a sponsor of Richardson’s, for instance, could have offered counseling rather than releasing a boilerplate, “We’ll continue to support her through this time” statement.
Criticism and judgment are the last things Richardson needs right now. She needs help, not a slew of armchair Olympians wagging their fingers in shame.
— Staff notes originally run in our daily email newsletter, Indy Now, along with news updates, photos of the day, a weekly poll and more. Sign up below.