Sha’Carri Richardson became an overnight sensation last month, after winning the women’s 100 meter race at the US track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon. The 21-year-old finished the race in just 10.64 seconds— making her the fastest woman in America and turning her name into a household name. Indeed, even those who weren’t familiar with the sport couldn’t help but notice Richardson, who completed the race with bright orange hair and a full face of makeup. Her off-beat style, and no-nonsense attitude, quickly amassed her a large following outside of the sport, and solidified her as one of America’s favorite competitors in the Tokyo Olympics that will take place later this summer.
Unfortunately though, Sha’Carri might never make it to Tokyo after all— after testing positive for marijuana earlier this week. The positive test immediately disqualified her from competing in the 100-meter race that she excelled in, and led to her being suspended for one month— starting on June 28th. Sha’Carri still has a chance to compete in the Olympics, if she tests negative in time for the 4×100 meter relay. However, even that is up in the air. First, she has to be given a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team— a certainty for the young athlete only a week ago.
Immediately after news of the positive test result hit the media, Sha’Carri took to social media to defend herself. On July 1st, the track sensation Tweeted simply: “I am human,” a Tweet which has since amassed over 500 thousand likes and over 90 retweets. Rather than shrink from the spotlight, Sha’Carri continued to defend herself in the press. “Standing here, I’d just say don’t judge me, because I am human,” Richardson said. “I’m you, I just happen to run a little faster.”
In the days following the test result, Sha’Carri continued to speak candidly about it. In an interview with NBC last Friday, Sha’Carri explained that she used marijuana as a coping mechanism following the unexpected death of her biological mother. Sha’Carri Richardson was raised by her grandmother and only found out about her mother’s death from a reporter during an interview. She described the experience as triggering and “definitely nerve shocking.”
Throughout all of this, Sha’Carri continues to apologize to her fans, sponsors, and family, stating: “I greatly apologize if I let you guys down, and I did.” However, as Sha’Carri continues to speak candidly about the drug test, and her own mental health issues that led to substance use, fans from all over the world have stood behind her— voicing their dismay about how the world of professional sports treats marijuana use and handles mental health issues. Richardson is now the third track athlete this year to accept a suspension related to marijuana use, according to AP.
Many are comparing Richardson’s plight to the infamous Michael Phelps incident— referring to Phelp’s three-month suspension from USA Swimming back in 2009 after being photographed inhaling marijuana smoke. Advocates claim that marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug and thus, should not be treated as one by the athletic community. Richardson smoked marijuana in the state of Oregon, which meant that she didn’t violate any laws in doing so (marijuana is legal in Oregon). For many, Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension and elimination has been a gross injustice, and has led to a big loss in the upcoming Olympic games this year. But while Sha’Carri Richardson’s Olympic fate may be up in the air, her outspoken response to the test result has opened up a larger national dialogue about the subject, and has forever solidified her name within the national consciousness.