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With Perspective, Learning From Sha'Carri Richardson's Suspension

by Ashley Stewart


Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension exemplifies the pressure and challenges that athletes face, particularly leading up to their sporting event. 

As we saw earlier in this Olympic cycle, society can no longer ignore the fact that one’s athleticism does not override mental health struggles like depression and anxiety. While Richardson is 21 years old, her story provides a lesson for all youth athletes.

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At the outset, I must acknowledge that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s rules regarding marijuana are, at best, outdated. For instance, Members of the U.S. Congress have clarified that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug and have noted that marijuana is legal to some extent in most states (including the state Richardson was in). Legislators have also advocated for the reconsideration of Richardson’s suspension.

This issue is not new, sports leagues have discussed marijuana use in the context of mental health for some time. Nonetheless, there’s a lesson in how Richardson responded to her suspension. 

In response to her suspension, Richardson graciously apologized and courageously said that she is working on effectively managing her emotions and establishing better coping mechanisms. She also showed vulnerability by sharing her emotional struggles following the death of her mother.

As a black female athlete myself, I empathize with Richardson and can imagine the magnitude of work she put in to be in the Olympic trials. The margin for error is so small, leaving little room for any misstep. Moreover, it’s hard to ignore the lasting impact of the enforcement of marijuana laws on the Black community. To this day, it is clear that the stereotypes and false information surrounding the use of marijuana have perpetuated the existence of antiquated rules. Despite this, Richardson’s resolution to focus on improving her mental health serves as an example for youth athletes, parents, and coaches. 

Richardson tells us that mental health comes first. PCA provides techniques to do just that, including:

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10 Tips For Emotionally Supporting Athletes, Right Now

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5 Ways Young Athletes Can Improve their Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Managing Emotions with Teammates: Red, Yellow, Green Technique

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Richardson reminds us that, when we face adversity, we are all still human and that we should give ourselves (and each other) grace and understanding. Additionally, Richardson gives us a glimpse of the complex pressures athletes are navigating and coping with regularly.

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Ashley Stewart, a member of PCA’s Mid-Atlantic Leadership Council, works with PCA in a pro bono capacity on federal legislative and regulatory matters in her work at Steptoe and Johnson LLP.