On Saturday, Biden became the latest person to weigh in on Sha’carri Richardson being effectively barred from competing in the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for THC.
I would say that no one asked Biden what he thinks, but though this may be spiritually true, Biden was in fact asked to comment on the United States Anti-Doping Agency decision by reporters in Michigan: “Rules are the rules,” Biden said of Richardson’s one-month suspension. “Everybody knows what the rules are going in. Whether they should remain that way—whether that should remain the rule—is a different issue. Rules are rules.”
The president continued: “I was really proud of the way she responded.”
Appeals to “the rules” are almost never helpful or welcome, particularly since the rules are usually arbitrary and applied unevenly. In this case, the policies that resulted in Richardson’s suspension are the creation of a single body, the USADA, whose officials have the power to change them—but only if they want. In the case of Black athletes, exceptions are rarely if ever made; empathy can be equally hard to come by.
Biden’s comments are anodyne enough, but the suggestion that Richardson technically deserves the consequences she was met with is part of what she has responded to over the last few days. By which I mean to say: Richardson’s grace is not Biden’s to be proud of.
The star runner received an outpouring of support following word of her suspension. Nonetheless it has largely been left to Richardson to insist on her own humanity in the face of comments like the ones made by Quillette founder Claire Lehmann, who spread lies that Richardson was on steroids and tweeted racist remarks about her hair and nails.
In an interview on the Today show, Richardson took responsibility for her actions, but explained that she had used marijuana after news that her biological mother had died sent her “into a state of emotional panic.” Over the weekend, Richardson tweeted out thanks to her fans for standing by her and promised to make world champion next year.
“All these perfect people that know how to live life,” Richardson wrote. “I’m glad I’m not one of them!”