Opinion: Sha'Carri Richardson's positive marijuana test one example of how anti-Blackness triumphs in sports

·3 min read

Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson's positive marijuana test last week led to, well, what you'd expect, but that didn't make the predictable and voluminous amount of racism she faced any less stunning. And boy, was it predictable. And boy, was it voluminous.

One of the most ridiculously bigoted Twitter posts of all time came from a journalist named Claire Lehmann, who claimed that because Richardson had "strong nails and hair" she's using steroids.

What exactly is strong hair? If strong or big hair is because of steroid use then suspend the 1980s.

Another remarkable moment came from Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, who was also the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley's jingoistic rant about Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry turning her back on the American flag wasn't very ambassador-y.

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BIDEN ON RICHARDSON: 'Proud' of way she handled positive marijuana test, but 'rules are rules'

Haley seemed harsher on Berry than she was on the instigator who pushed hundreds of white nationalists to storm the Capitol.

There was one other thing from the week. It was the banning of a swimming cap designed for Afro swimmers. Noliwe Rooks, the chair of and a professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, told USA TODAY the ban has historical comparisons to others involving Black hair.

"While this ban does not specifically speak about specific Black hairstyles in terms of a ban," Rooks said, "as have previous bans from the U.S. military and various corporate concerns and workplaces, this ruling disregards the needs of Black women to protect their hair and their hairstyles when they swim."

All of these stories have something in common. They are all about anti-Blackness.

You may not believe in such a thing. But it exists. It has for some time. It will for some time. And sports is obviously no exception. In many ways, sports is among the places where anti-Blackness has taken a stronghold. We saw this with the reaction to Colin Kaepernick who, years before George Floyd was murdered, peacefully protested systemic racism but was portrayed by right wing politicians and media as a traitor. He was blasted by former President Donald Trump, and essentially banned from the NFL.

These three stories reinforce something that was known but continues to be crystallized. Kaepernick's fight not only continues, but the strain of anti-Blackness in sports remains potent.

The best example of this is what happened to Richardson.

How can marijuana testing in the Olympics be racist since all athletes are tested?

It's a fair question, and the answer is that marijuana prohibitions in the United States had definitively racist origins, and those policies spread globally, and include the Olympics.

Wrote MSNBC's Hayes Brown: "Those policies were purposeful, designed to marginalize first Hispanic and then African Americans throughout the 20th century. And the racism inherent in United States drug laws has helped shape a world where international drug policy focused on prohibition is the ultimate goal, often resulting in 'the excessive use of incarceration as a drug-control measure,' the Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health wrote in 2016.

“The evidence also clearly demonstrates that enforcement of drug laws has been applied in a discriminatory way against racial and ethnic minorities in a number of countries,” the commission also wrote. “The USA is perhaps the best documented but not the only country with clear racial biases in policing, arrests, and sentencing.”

“The criminalization and banning of cannabis is an instrument of racist and colonial policy,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “The IOC should reconsider its suspension of Ms. Richardson and any athletes penalized for cannabis use.”

If white Olympic athletes get caught up in the rules, well, so be it, but they aren't the intended targets. The rules are clear markers of anti-Blackness. This is undeniable, this is history, this is data, this is purposeful.

It's also, unfortunately, likely going to be an issue throughout the Olympics.

And longer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sha'Carri Richardson, Olympics examples, show Anti-Blackness triumphs