*The following article has been modified from its original state*
There are times in life when you know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know. At least for me, anyway. I didn’t know what to think after learning Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for THC, a chemical found in marijuana. The only thing I knew is the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) bans its use.
Along with that, I knew Richardson could find herself in an unfortunate situation. And she has. On Friday morning, the USADA announced a 30-day ban for Richardson due to her positive test. I knew this was going to be a subject I’d have to either write or talk about. However, I was clueless on where to begin. I had so many thoughts and questions. I didn’t know how to sort out what I was thinking. As much as I watch sports, I don’t know the inner workings of track & field.
At the risk of “doing the most” in a thinkpiece, I reached out to my friend Erin Humphrey. I wanted to gain her perspective. And there are several reasons for that. Firstly, like Richardson, Humphrey is a black woman in America. And also, like many black women I observed on social media, Humphrey too, rooted for Richardson’s success. I mean, how could you not?
Secondly, I sought Humphrey’s perspective because she’s no stranger to the track herself.
Humphrey, 33, is a two-time Junior National Olympic Champion (2005 and 2006) in the 4x400m relay. She was also a member of the 2006 US Junior National team that competed in Beijing, China, at the World Junior Championships. Additionally, Humphrey is a former state champion (Michigan) and record holder in the 400m. Humphrey has probably forgot more about the world of track (which she hasn’t) than I would know.
As Humphrey and I discussed Richardson’s situation, her frustration was growing as the talk went on. She acknowledged the tough spot that Richardson was in, losing her mother right before the qualifying trials. As most should know by now, some people use THC/marijuana to treat anxiety and depression. It’s very possible Richardson may have used marijuana to cope with the death of a parent.
Despite that, in Humphrey’s eyes, the situation was an avoidable one.
“She messed up when she thought her talent would be enough,” said Humphrey.
“You have to play by these rules. They are set for a reason. Substances have to meet 2/3 of a list of criteria to be banned. Weed is one of those things.”
At first, I didn’t understand why. After all, it’s only marijuana. How does marijuana benefit a track and field star? Me and a few friends joked that it was even more impressive she did that with THC in her system.
We were under the impression that it would hinder a performance, if anything. Like, who out there thinks that marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug (PEDs).
It was at that moment that Humphrey gently pulled me out of my cave of ignorance.
She educated me that marijuana is on the list of banned substances not only because it meets the criteria above, but also that some runners view it as a masking agent. And if an athlete were to take PEDs, marijuana could potentially mask that.
She informed me that diuretics don’t help an athlete perform better, but it does flush PEDs out of the system quickly. Furthermore, she educated me that the “doping game” in the track & field world is shadier than the average person would know of. Lastly, she stated that because of what’s mentioned above, marijuana, in the world of track & field, is considered a PED along with other reasons, which are listed on the USADA website.
To be fair, Humphrey was not and is not accusing Sha’Carri Richardson of taking PEDs.
At no point during our conversation did she insinuate that. Nevertheless, she did state that the general public needs to understand how the track & field world views the usage of THC/marijuana.
While Humphrey is rooting for Richardson’s success, she didn’t state whether she felt Richardson is taking PEDs or not.
Nevertheless, the track & field community believes it’s possible. After wrapping up my discussion with Humphrey, I began to conduct some research.
And by research, I mean hopping in and out of various sports groups on social media. I needed to see the tea leaves. I wanted to read the thoughts of current and former track athletes, regardless of the competition level. After reading several conversations, I learned that in the track & field community, some think Richardson could have used marijuana as a masking agent in the manner Humphrey stated above.
It was also at that moment that I genuinely understood my friend’s frustration. Even if Sha’Carri Richardson isn’t taking PEDs, the thought is out there now. She put herself under a microscope she didn’t need to. And she did it ahead of the biggest competition of her life.
As a result, she may have peers who question her skills because they know “the dope game” in their community.
I want to make one thing clear. Sha’Carri Richardson knew better.
She had to.
To reach her level of success, she knew the rules. And she ignored them. Regardless of what factored into it, she made a choice. Richardson is only 21-years-old.
So this isn’t the end of the world for her. It’s an unfortunate setback. And as she tweeted Thursday evening, she’s human. Nevertheless, her mishap reminded me of something that sticks with me to this day.
Over a decade ago, during a one-on-one conversation, my ex-girlfriend’s father told me that any person, man or woman, must be able to handle consequences, if there are any, from choices they make.
Richardson’s choices have her status for the Tokyo Olympics in limbo. At her age, she can quickly learn from this. And I have a great feeling she will. End of the day, rules are rules. In the lane Sha’Carri Richardson wants to be a star in, she violated them. Now, she has a chance to create a hell of a redemption story.
Furthermore, Sha’Carri Richardson can serve as a role model for anyone that finds themselves in her position. Because, like it or not, even with this mishap, she is still that girl.
UPDATE: To be fair to Richardson, no evidence on the USADA website supports the theory that THC is a masking agent PEDs. However, marijuana does me 2/3 criteria on the USADA and WADA website for a ban. This article is simply a conversation with a former junior Olympian who decided to share her thoughts and provide insight from her experiences.