Next Friday the 2021 Summer Olympics will begin. They will begin without Sha’carri Richardson.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, Richardson is arguably the fastest woman on the planet. She will not be at the Olympics because she used marijuana, tested positive for it in a post-qualifying drug test and her qualifying run was voided.
According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), “for something to be added to the … prohibited list, it must meet two of the three inclusion criteria: It poses a health risk to athletes; It has the potential to enhance performance; It violates the spirit of sport.”
Both “It has the potential to enhance performance” and “It violates the spirit of sport” are both vague enough that they could disqualify just about anyone for anything. Therefore, the Olympic Committee had grounds to disqualify Richardson.
While the story of Richardson was a news story that was then dropped in favor of a newer story, you need to talk about this story with your children on two related story lines.
Have the banned substance and mental health talk with kids
The first story line, and most obvious, is it was a banned substance on the Olympics list of banned substances. The second is our attitude toward medicating for mental illness.
First, marijuana (cannabis) is legal in parts of the United States. Why then bar Richardson? Your children need to know marijuana is still illegal under federal law. There are areas of the United States where it is legal locally, but still illegal nationally.
To confuse your children even more, when they go to the internet to research this issue they will find that all the professional athletic leagues have greatly loosened their restrictions on marijuana use over the past years.
The NFL has raised the threshold for a positive test and eliminated suspensions and the NBA stopped random testing for marijuana in March 2020. These changes came about due to laws prohibiting marijuana use around the U.S. and the world have been relaxed, and as studies have linked marijuana to medicinal and pain-relief.
Still it is illegal in most of the United States.
Help children respond property to mental illness
The second story line is about how we, as a nation, respond to those with any form of mental illness. Richardson was depressed following the death of her mother. Depression following the death of a loved one is not uncommon. In fact, depression is all too common.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 6.7% of American adults each year. That’s more than 16 million individuals.
Depression causes people to lose pleasure from daily life, can complicate other medical conditions,and can even be serious enough to lead to suicide. Far too often we caricature those with mental illness as the “raving maniac” of fiction. The reality is an individual who suffers in silence and will never hurt, or ever think, of hurting anyone.
Many individuals self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Did Richardson self-medicate with marijuana? So it appears, but it is understandable. Richardson is 21 years old and lauded for her physical accomplishments since she was declared one of the 10 fastest women in history at 19 years of age.
The pressures on her have been immense. Did anyone ask how she was doing after her mother’s death? Or were they thinking of her Olympics performance?
Use this incident to talk to your children about self-care. Caring for their mental health is as important as their physical health.
Beverly Theil is a child advocate who lives in Wooster. She can be contacted at BeverlyVT@aol.com