The landmine in sports – Be careful where you step

“We are in awe of their talents, yet we know that they – in the words of Simone Biles – have targets on their backs.”

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Jamala Rogers, Guest Columnist

The suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson stirred up a flurry of emotions for me. I was angry, saddened, disgusted. The fastest woman in the U.S.was stopped cold in her hot tracks.

The pint-sized runner has taken on the bodacious and colorful persona of Florence Griffin Joyner. The fastest woman of all time, Flo-Jo pursued a record-breaking career path all the way to the 1988 Olympics.

Athletes like Sha’Carri, Naomi Osaka, Allyson Felix and Simone Biles make me want to ask, why submit yourselves to this racist, sexist bullshit? I know why. These are basically kids who want to break boundaries and bend human possibilities. They love what they do. We are in awe of their talents yet we know that they – in the words of Simone Biles – have targets on their backs.

What happens when they face character assassination, sexual assault, relentless stress, insanely high expectations, unjust media scrutiny and lack of support from the sports industry which exploits them and others?

Sha’Carri was blazing to Tokyo until she got the abrupt news that her biological mother had died. She smoked some weed to help her deal with the trauma of her loss, on top of the pressure of preparing for the Olympics. When she tested positive for marijuana, Sha’Carri was summarily suspended by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, putting an end to any performances that pushed her limits to break new records.

The agency’s action was met with demands to review the drug policies in light of the legalization of drugs in states across the country. Even if the drug policy is changed in the Olympics, the landmines facing Black athletes are definitely more camouflaged than the ones the rest of us face.

This is because these melanated athletes should be grateful for the opportunity to be super-exploited. Further, they should suffer in silence. They should shut up and play.

I hope the recent light on the fragility of muscle-bound athletes gives them the okay to practice self-care. They have the absolute right to make decisions about their sanity, their careers and their futures.

The sports industry, including the Olympics, is out of control. Heads looked away while hundreds of children were molested by Dr. Larry Nasser. Student athletes are golden gooses for university athletic departments. Professional athletes are auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Spectators have a role in this madness. We should support the rights of athletes to bargain for fair labor contracts, to shield them from racist media tropes, to protect their freedom of speech, and to expect that our children will be mentally and physically safe while playing sports.

I don’t know what the future holds for Sha’Carri, whether she will continue her Olympic dreams or not. I just want her to find her higher, grounded self in her own colorful way.