A week ago the Linkedin group The Female Lead that I follow posted an image of three ‘women of color’ athletes who won’t be competing at the Olympics due to “rules” they supposedly broke in the past few months. The women included Sha’Carri Richardson, who got booted for smoking some pot, a small infraction that violated anti-doping rules, Naomi Osaki who ran afoul of authoritarian rules about press interviews when she stood aside to protect her mental health, and Gwen Barry, whose podium protest got her in trouble for not saluting the flag during the national anthem.
None of these women did anything intrinsically illegal by the laws that most of us follow every day. Granted, in some states, smoking pot is still illegal. But Sha’Carri was disturbed after finding out from a reporter that her biological mother had died, and took some steps to calm down after that shock. She self-medicated to handle difficult information that came from a completely unexpected source.
Several male jerks on Linkedin stated that these women were deserving of their bans because they exhibited a “lack of accountability” and brought their circumstance on themselves. This type of rude commentary happens frequently on The Female Lead’s Linkedin feed on. In case you didn’t know it, there are still a large number of misogynistic jerks out there in the world that like to malign women about anything they can find to criticize. Who knew? Yes, I’m being sarcastic.
Dark hearted factors
Some of the comments made are clearly racist in origin. Others seem specifically aimed at suppressing women at any cost. In any case, they are largely flat-out ignorant.
That sets the stage for a look at two women I encountered while running this weekend.
One young runner was standing by the trail in a forest preserve adjusting her earbuds because she heard outside music and thought her equipment was faulty. It turned out that there was a Christian praise band playing loudly on a platform across the road at a big white church that reflected the sound. There was no audience for the band. They were just blasting away singing into the wind. I could hear them two miles away.
We both chuckled at the seemingly fruitless blare of noise coming from the band, then started talking about running. She’s doing a marathon in September and is working her way up to the distance. I shared that I ran for the same high school that her tee shirt showed, and she indicated that she’d loved her experience there.Sweet and eager to laugh, she’s stepping up to a challenge that isn’t easy for anyone. I wished her well and offered to provide any advice if she’s interested. Then I told her where to look me up on the Internet.
Further down the trail I passed a woman that I’ve known for more than a decade. I’ve seen her dozens of times over the years. She’s always hyper-thin to the point where it is obvious there are dietary or emotional issues going on, or an exercise addiction. She loves doing super-long races and there is clearly a cost to that.
When you think about the population of this world, it is clear that all of us are colored by some sort of emotional markers. Some people codify these and hide their fears in political fury while others lay themselves out there, exposed and honest, reflecting the world in all of its chaotic glory.
I thought about the range of experience between those two women that I encountered, and how they illustrate the spectrum of emotional challenges all athletes face in this world. Add in the factors of race or culture, or Olympic-sized pressures, and it seems like we should all be more conscious of how impactful self-image can be, and why it is so false to pass judgment and pretend to know the deep motivations of those who act out on a larger stage.
The Olympics are coming. These are just people. Like you and me, they’re not perfect. Let’s all keep that in mind as the Games proceed.