She’s fast! She’s super-fast, running like her hair’s on fire! Yes, I’m talking about Sha’Carri Richardson!  She’s 5’1” with bright orange hair, inch long eyelashes, and 3-inch fingernails, destined to win gold. In a sport in need of what any sport requires for sponsorship and viewership; a recognizable face, a recognizable name, and a fiery, charismatic personality– an absent Richardson will not go unnoticed! 

Sha’Carri was born for this assignment, winning Olympic gold, but she’s a No Go for Tokyo, and Tokyo is now under a Covid-19 State of Emergency. The first of a series of ironies, Tokyo doesn’t want us in Japan. The Japanese want us all to stay home, so none of us gets to go. No spectators in the stands? How ironic?

The second glaring irony is the gross hypocrisy. Rather than a 100-meter dash, what is dashed is a 21-year-old’s dreams… dreams she’s embraced since she was a little girl. Faster than her sprint time was the time it took to disqualify this young black female phenom. The irony is the intolerance and inflexibility. She tested positive for a non-performance-enhancing substance, legal in her home state of Oregon. Let her run! If a trendsetting transgender Miss Nevada can compete for the coveted Miss USA title, let Sha’Carri Richardson run!

Rules are rules? She knew better! Yes, she admitted to her infraction, her error in judgement. Now you admit that when you saw Sha’ Carri’s Olympic dreams go down in flames, some of you felt a shameful, heartless sense of satisfaction. Perhaps you’ve never had a dream denied, perhaps you never had potential to achieve greatness, but check yourself. What you cannot take away is that she is already great. Her accomplishments, to date, have already rendered her great. Among her peers of world class athletes, she is exceptional, a champion. They know it, you know it! Deal with it!  

When is it time to review the rules? That question has plagued the Olympic committee for many years. Cheating and Performance Enhancing substance abuse have been part of Olympic culture throughout its history, but when is it appropriate to reevaluate the rules? Now, because, in this case, they got it wrong. Their inflexibility renders them wrong. Remember, not only is cannabis not listed as a Performance Enhancing controlled substance, the target of existing doping rules, but she consumed it in a state where its legal to do so. She will have to wait 3 more years to realize her dream. Another dream deferred! 

Naomi Osaka, the number one ranked women’s tennis champion, found her dreams stalled as quickly as she admitted to personal mental health issues, rendering her unavailable for press interviews. When she announced she would not be available to participate in the French Open press conference, the action taken against her was a swift $15,000 fine. She chose to drop out of the French Open and Wimbledon. This 23-year-old tennis great grew up watching Venus and Serena. She had dreams! Remember what a sport requires for sponsorship and viewership? I’m sure her presence was sorely missed in both events.

Naomi’s New York Times cover story, “It’s Okay, Not to Be Okay,” reveals the need for the WTA to study the stress, pressure and anxiety suffered by its competitors. Her essay will serve as an expose, benefitting unknown thousands of young competitors in all sports. Her courage and maturity will serve as a model for unknown thousands of little girls and little boys who look up to her as a role model in the same way Venus and Serena served as her role models. 

Add 2016 Olympic 100-meter hurdles star, Brianna McNeal, and her 5-year suspension from Olympic participation to the conversation and a pattern begins to take form. Naomi documented her stress related issues, Sha’ Carri was suffering the loss of her biological mother, and Brianna, a recent abortion. Together they all spell varying degrees of mental health challenges and the absence of proper support. If fines and penalties remain the only recourse, dreams will continue to be dashed, and the powerful who hold youthful dreams in their mitts will never be held accountable for suffocating the exceptional within our midst. Exceptional, like the precocious 14-year-old National Spelling Bee winner, Zaila Avant-Garde, whose victory, the first by an African American in the contest’s 96-year history, she declares, was “like a dream come true.” Change is desperately needed… FAST!

That’s what’s on my mind! 



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