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If there is one conversation that the 2020 2021 olympics from Tokyo, Japan are going to be remembered for outside of it taking place the year after a worldwide pandemic that put life as we know it on pause, is the proper focus on mental health when it comes to the athletes that compete.

Track and Field sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended on June 28th for one month after testing positive for cannabis. The consequence was for thirty days even though certain regulations would may have allowed her to come back on to the team to compete in time. Nevertheless she took the suspension in stride.

Being from Baton Rouge, Louisiana I was definitely excited to witness Richardson a former LSU competitor at the Olympics to show out and represent for the city. I was devastated when I heard about the suspension but was definitely impressed at how she took ownership over her actions. Even though Richardson smoked marijuana legally in the state she was in Oregon, I hope this can open up the conversation about how not only the Olympics but all sports should lift the heavy punishment upon athletes who decide to smoke for whatever reason. Especially since that it is now becoming legal in most states in America.

World renowned Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles decided to take a break during this years games. This was met with a polarizing response. On one hand people praised her bravery and commended her for taking time away so she could get into the best mental and physical shape possible. Others criticized her and labeled her a quitter by backing out of the most prestigious world competition there is, even going as far as making fun of the young athlete. Biles was still able to go back to the Olympics and capture bronze for team U.S.A in the balance beam contest. She arrived back in her hometown to a heroes welcome and a parade in Texas for her courageous effort.

As it has come out that both of these young women were dealing with excruciating losses in their family after the fact. Richardson with the death of her mother and Biles with the death of her aunt. Still these ladies owed the public no explanation for their personal decision to help them cope with their suffering.

At majority of occupations (depending on whether or not the company you work for has some act right) if there is a death in the family there is normally bereavement time off. This is used to help someone attempt to personally cope and heal during the loss. Athletes are not given this common courtesy as it is deemed that the stakes are too high and peoples selfish tendencies to want to see them perform.

Tennis extraordinaire Naomi Asuka recently withdrew from the U.S. Open because of the stress of speaking with the press after competition. She most recently left an interview in tears after an exchange with a reporter ahead of the Western and Southern Open.

In majority of sports there are hefty fines that go out to talent for those who do not speak to the media after a competition. Unfortunately there is not a lot of sympathy on the athletes behalf when having to make a sound statement to the public after a grueling event. One might not be adequately equipped to give a rational analysis in either win or loss from a game as they are running high off emotion. Any wrong word said can and will be taken out of context.

The pressure and stress is hard enough going into the Olympic Games for an athlete. Compounded with that they are the representative of an entire country and that weight of responsibility has to be nerve wrecking. Athletes are tasked with being role models and portraying themselves and their sport in a positive light at all times. It is an honor to be looked up to as the face of an entire game but the metaphorical mountain of pressure with always having to be better than perfect has got to be trying. Any mistake made could be consequential so every move must be calculated or run the risk of losing everything. Also these superstars have an entire generation of younger watchers that look up to their every act. Their is a consistent quest to be a good role model and always make the correct decision as this could impact the future as we know it.

Another aspect that is normally mentioned as well when it comes to athletes and their mental health is money and fame. Because they are getting paid way more than the average person to compete in a game then their feelings should be nullified. In order to be at the top of your game the mental strength has to be equal if not more than the physical strength. One wrong move could legitimately leave an athlete paralyzed. That is the aspect society neglects to realize when it comes to these superstars. Yes they have earned an opportunity to do what they love for a living. To pursue their passion that they worked on so rigorously for their entire lives for a chance to obtain glory. These athletes do risk their bodies not only in practicing but in competition as well. It is imperative that these performers have their mind in the right place at all times or it could be detrimental to their long term well being. No amount of money or fame is worth jeopardizing livelihood.

It would also be a tragedy not to include that the brave athletes speaking up about mental health are women of color. Biles and Johnson both being African-American and Asuka being of Japanese and Hatian decent. We all know that our sisters are superheroes and we rely on them to save the day because let’s face it society would be completely lost without them and we are not capable of making tough decisions by ourselves. The courage these women display by taking time off to support their mental well being can not be taken lightly. Life for women of color has always been an obstacle course. Consistently they have been forced to hop over more hurdles and jump over higher bars just to not even place. There is bravery in taking a rest for your own psyche and with determination and will power I have no doubt that these women will have the resiliency to come back and compete better than ever.

Women of color are always being judged from their looks to their personalities and much more. As gymnastics is a unique competition as one is not challenging another person per se but they are competing in front of a hand full of judges for a rating. That is similar to how life is. A constant show to put on a performance in front of the world for approval being reviewed at every action. A never ending struggle attempting to gain perfection and acceptance from complete strangers.

Us as fans also have to do a better job of being more understanding in these situations. We live through athletes vicariously because they have the ability to do things physically what we can only dream of doing. Being the representative for entire nation is a necessary evil. There is pride in being labeled as the one to lead our country to victory but pressure in having your losses being broadcasted to the entire world.

Hopefully one day we see our athletes as actual humans instead of ineffectually useless outside of our entertainment. There is more to life than a game and the real glory is coming to grips with their gracious sacrifices they make for us all. Delivering the message that it is fine to “protect yourself before you wreck yourself” and “it is o.k to not be ok” will inspire an entire youth to speak up about their personal issues and do what is right for them in the long run.

-CH

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