Activism Race Sports

Feminist Recap of Olympics News: Sha’Carri Richardson, Soul Cap Swim Caps, and Gwen Berry

Sha’Carri Richardson, a star American sprinter set to join the U.S. Olympic track team, received a one-month suspension last Monday for a positive marijuana test. The suspension, issued by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, could jeopardize her participation in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics later this month.

Richardson apologized for using marijuana, explaining that she used it as a coping mechanism after discovering from a reporter that her biological mother had unexpectedly died. A reporter told Richardson this information during an interview at the Olympic track and field trials in Oregon last month.

In a Today show interview, Richardson, 21, said hearing this news from a stranger was “triggering,” “nerve-shocking,” and sent her into “a state of emotional panic.”

“I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time,” she said.  

Due to her suspension, Richardson will be unable to compete in the 100-meter dash in Tokyo. While she cannot participate in this race, which she won in an astonishing 10.86 seconds during the Olympic trials, there is hope she could still run the 4X100-meter relay.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions. I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what I’m allowed not to do. But I still made that decision. I’m not making an excuse,” Richardson said.

In a statement on Twitter, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) criticized the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and asked them to reconsider their decision to ban Richardson, saying “Their decision lacks any scientific basis. It’s rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws.”

A petition to let Richardson run in the Olympics is currently at 450,000 signatures. The petition argues that “The imposition of a penalty against a world-class Black, queer, woman athlete is powerfully and infuriatingly reminiscent of the way drug laws are regularly applied in the United States,” the petition says.

 “Recreational marijuana use has been de facto legal for upper-middle-class white people for years—something more states are recognizing as they legalize marijuana for all people and consider how to repair the damage done to Black and brown communities by decades of ‘the war on drugs.’”

Also last week, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) received heavy backlash for its decision to ban Soul Cap swim caps, a Black-owned British brand designed for natural Black hair, from being used in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

After drawing criticism for this announcement, FINA is reconsidering the policy. In a statement Friday, FINA announced that it is “currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.”

Soul Cap co-founder Toks Ahmed said on social media that the ban would “discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport.”

“For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial,” Ahmed added.

Danielle Obe, the founder of the Black Swimming Association, said in response to the ban, “We believe that it confirms a lack of diversity in (the sport). Aquatics swimming must do better.”

“We need the space and the volume which products like the Soul Caps allow for. Inclusivity is realizing that no one head shape is ‘normal,’” Obe said. “If the (official swimming bodies) are talking about representation, they need to speak to the communities to find out what the barriers are that are preventing us from engaging. Hair is a significant issue for our community.”

These Olympic controversies come after Gwen Berry, an Olympic qualifier, protested the national anthem after winning third in the hammer throw at the U.S. track and field trials in Oregon last Saturday.

Berry said she had no intention of protesting and only learned the anthem would be played moments before making her way to the winners’ podium for pictures.

“I feel like it was setup,” Berry said, “I was thinking about what should I do. Eventually, I just stayed there and just swayed. I put my shirt over my head. It was real disrespectful. I know they did that on purpose, but it’ll be all right. I see what’s up.”

Berry turned her back to the flag and put her “Activist Athlete” shirt over her head. This is not the first time Berry has protested at sporting events. She raised her fist while standing on the winners’ podium at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Peru.

“It’s really important for me and my community just to be able to represent. I think sports is a distraction. Sports is entertainment. But my purpose and my voice and mission is bigger than the sport. So my being able to represent my communities and my people and those who have died at the hands of police brutality, those who have died to this systemic racism, I feel like that’s the important part,” Berry said.

“That’s why I’m going. And that’s why I was here today.”

Sources: New York Times 7/3/21; Washington Post 7/2/21l; The Hill 7/6/2021; CNN 6/5/21; The Guardian 7/2/21; Huffington Post 7/4/21; Washington Post 6/26/21; Washington Post 9/16/20

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