I’m sure we all remember watching the Olympics growing up and watching eagerly with family to cheer on your nation’s finest athletic talent as they compete on the global stage, right? For many, I’m sure these memories come fondly and have become a household tradition for families around the world. Historically one of the biggest TV events of the decade, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics had a lackluster viewership and became overshadowed by scandal, controversy, and double standards — much like our broken system within corporate America
Russian Olympic Committee figure skating sensation Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned substance used to treat angina, or chest pain, which subsequently impacted the entire category of figure skating. The 15-year old’s sample was sent to an antidoping lab in Stockholm, where results took longer than anticipated. Due to her age, she was given the benefit of the doubt to continue to compete while the investigation moved forward, but no medal ceremony would take place for any athlete in the category due to the drug scandal.
The young lady would eventually be cleared to skate despite testing positive for a banned substance. Kamila Valieva was the front-runner to win the women’s free skate and the muse of every reporter covering the games. Ultimately, despite being cleared to skate, Kamila did not medal after falling and stumbling not once, but a few times. Tears were seen streaming down the young girl’s face, and a sense of empathy echoed from around the world as Kamila’s Olympic dreams were shattered.
While it is normal to feel a sense of empathy for such a young and talented athlete — there is a much bigger picture here and the worldwide unwavering support for the ROC’s star skater is the epitome of tone-deaf.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were inevitably postponed to 2021. At the Olympic trials, 21-year old track star Sha’Carri Richardson stunned the world when she won the women’s 100-meter final with an impressive time of 10.86 seconds. Soon after her record-breaking trial, the Louisiana State University sprinter would be disqualified from competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, testing positive for marijuana.
Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps denounced her disqualification as marijuana has become an instrumental tool in treating anxiety and depression, which is commonly seen among Olympic athletes. Think about it, you are representing your country on a global stage, competing against the world’s top talent — that pressure alone can result in paralyzing anxiety, depression, and even panic.
Now, this is not to condone using banned substances as an Olympic athlete, but let’s look at a comparison between Kamila Valieva and Sha’Carri Richardson. Kamila Valieva tested positive for three drugs, one of which was a banned substance. She was given the benefit of the doubt and permitted to compete until the investigation concluded. When the investigation was complete, they again gave her the benefit of the doubt, claiming that the medication was used to treat chest pain from anxiety — and they cleared her to compete and medal.
Media around the world displayed nothing but support for the young figure skater, stating that she most likely did not know what she was taking, and she was given medications from those around her. However, doesn’t that follow suit with what happened when the East Germans were told they were given ‘vitamins’ when they were doping? East Germany gave around 10,000 athletes ‘vitamins’ to help them perform, some of these athletes as young as 12-years old. As a minor, you feel a sense of empathy for her dreams being shattered, but she is also incredibly young and was still permitted to compete. However, it is the responsibility of her guardians and coaches to keep her compliant, which they did not do.
Compare that to Sha’Carri Richardson, who is also a young woman seeking Olympic gold. Shortly before the Olympic trials, Richardson’s biological mother had died, which resulted in anxiety and depression for the young athlete. She began smoking marijuana as a coping mechanism to get her through an incredibly difficult time, whilst still attempting to make her Olympic dreams come true. Richardson was not given the benefit of the doubt whatsoever — she was condemned, publicly shamed, and robbed of her opportunity to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The media portrayed Richardson as a villain and a threat to the sanctity of the Olympic Games. The backlash from media was insurmountable and quite frankly, disgusting. Sha’Carri Richardson is a strong young woman, and while she certainly is strong and was not seen with tears streaming down her face — she did not deserve that kind of treatment from the International Olympic Committee, and she did not deserve that treatment from the media and her country. We, as black women, are never afforded grace or compassion. We know how to stare adversity in the face and persevere. We don’t share tears publicly, because if we did, well that would be every single day we are crying.
The blatant double-standard for Black athletes is shameful — it is as if the human element gets taken out of the equation completely when it comes to Black athletes, but as soon as the White girl begins to cry, the media pulls out their tissues. To turn a blind eye to this double-standard is to promote racism on a global stage. We have enough racism in our own country, let alone on the global forum — and this type of treatment towards Black athletes is unacceptable. Isn’t this the exact same behavior we are seeing in Corporate America?
The Kamila v Sha’Carri controversy makes my heart heavy. Not only because Sha’Carri is being made out to be a monster, but because this is a theme we see every single day in corporate America, and then sit back and wonder why we can’t make any progress towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. The perpetuation of white women deserve opportunity and Black women can just “muscle up”, is rampant behavior by middle management managers, full of white women.
Black employees and White employees are not the same, unfortunately. The same treatment of Sha’Carri Richardson is being felt by talented and qualified applicants and employees across the nation, every single day. The Black employee is seen as tough, rough around the edges, disruptive, and undeserving of certain roles, titles, and salaries. On the other hand, take a look at the leadership teams of some of the largest, most successful organizations in the country — what do they look like?
More often than not, a board of directors and painted with white men. Every now and then you’ll see a woman in there, or see a Black or Hispanic board member, but they are always the exception rather than the rule. Black men and women are being disqualified just like Sha’Carri Richardson while white men and women continue to get the benefit of the doubt like Kamila Valieva.
It is time to take the blinders off.