The best way to assess the justness of a rule or law is to imagine what people in the future will think of it.
Someday soon — maybe in a year, maybe at the next Olympic trials — Americans will look back at last week's events and ask how any organization could have been so daft, so anachronistic, so wrongheaded.
"Wait," they will say in the future. "You're telling me that the United States kept one of its best athletes out of the Olympics because of marijuana? A drug that isn't performance-enhancing? A drug that was legal in her home state and in the state in which she competed in college? A drug that is now sold at Target and Kowalski's, right there next to the chips and lava lamps?
"Didn't anyone have the guts and foresight to do the right thing?"
Last week, Sha'Carri Richardson, who won the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials, lost her place in the Olympic 100 meters because she tested positive for THC, the main active chemical in marijuana. Richardson admitted she ingested marijuana to help her cope with the death of her mother.
The rule is illogical and its enforcement, in this case, is obviously cruel.
The rule will be changed in the near future, as marijuana becomes not only legal but as common and available as beer and wine. The director of the World Anti-Doping Agency has admitted that marijuana does not enhance athletic performance.
So why not change the rule right now, when changing it will do immediate good?
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Richardson for one month, eliminating her from racing in the Olympic 100. With her speed, flamboyance and compelling backstory, she promised to be one of the breakout stars in Tokyo.
The timing is as cruel as the decision. If her suspension had been for three weeks instead of a full month, she could have competed. Instead, she will miss an opportunity to run while at her athletic peak, in a race she could have won.
What is even more troubling than the arbitrariness and silliness of this rule is that these Olympic Games seem to be targeting Black women.
FINA, the federation that rules swimming, could have approved a swim cap designed for Black athletes' natural hair. FINA declined, saying that such caps "do not follow the natural form of the head."
Which is true, if you care only about the natural head form of white swimmers, who have traditionally dominated the sport.
Two 18-year-old runners from Namibia will be excluded from the Olympic 400 meters because they have high natural testosterone levels. They are not being accused of cheating. They are being accused of being themselves.
The same rule has sidelined South African runner Caster Semenya, who noted the cruel irony that she would have to take drugs to reduce her natural testosterone level, and has refused to do so.
"Why will I take drugs?" she said. "I'm a pure athlete. I don't cheat. They should focus on doping, not us."
Asked about Richardson's case, President Joe Biden this weekend said, "The rules are the rules."
That's a reductive view of a complex issue.
Those who believe in living by the letter of the law ignore the fact that laws are constantly changing, that there is always gray between the letters and lines.
Did you know that in Massachusetts, it is illegal for anyone over 16 to curse athletes or game officials?
Have you ever been to a Boston sporting event?
Do you think it would be possible to build a large enough prison to hold every Boston sports fan who has cursed an athlete or official? Should that rule be enforced because someone was once shortsighted enough to write it down?
That law is not enforced because it is ridiculous, obtuse, outdated and untenable.
Much like the rules that will keep a handful of talented Black women from competing in Tokyo.
Souhan, Jim. “Olympic Ban over Pot Is Just One Area Where the Powers That Be Are Illogical or Worse.” Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 5 July 2021, www.startribune.com/olympic-ban-over-pot-is-just-one-area-where-the-powers-that-be-are-illogical-or-worse/600074995/.
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