“Justice and law, well, I suppose they can be described as distant cousins.”
– From “A Dry White Season” about apartheid
When I was 23, I was stopped at 12:07 a.m. and cited for lewd contact in Olympia, Wash. My crime: Peeing in a public place, lewd conduct on the citation, which, for the record, took place next to a bridge over Puget Sound where the bored policeman arrested me.
I asked the citing officer, Trevor Seal, if there was anything else going on that night that might require his attention besides me responding to nature’s call? Seal asked me, “What if the mayor and his young daughter were riding by?” to which I replied, “But, they weren’t.” After a few tense moments when I refused to sign anything saying what I did was lewd, Seal said signing was not an admission of guilt. I signed, was released and eagerly awaited my day in court.
Lewd and lascivious conduct: A sexual act that is offensive to community standards of decency. ... It is a type of sex crime. It is often charged as a felony sex offense. One example of this kind of conduct is intentionally groping a minor. The penalties can be severe.
Which brings me to track and field. With the Tokyo Olympics set to start under a dark cloud in a few weeks, the American Olympic team has been hit with two World Anti-Doping Association-driven suspensions, adding to the already suspended list that has made some of our best athletes ineligible. Add those names to a long list of other athletes in the world and you have a world of heartbreak, confusion, and moral uncertainty. Cheating or not cheating is a minefield.
I won’t “get into the weeds” of how WADA operates, except to say that athletes must comply with its regulations. Things go south when you don’t. WADA is judge, jury, and executioner, and the presumption is guilty until proven innocent. To be fair, I applaud much of what WADA does, but there are moments when you scratch your head confused or feel heartbroken. And, as an athlete, if you test them, things can go south.
Things went south a year ago for Christian Coleman, the best U.S. 100 sprinter, who was ruled ineligible for repeatedly missing drug tests. Coleman was never found guilty of doping, but was guilty of missing scheduled drug tests. Remember, guilty until proven innocent.
They went south for Shelby Houlihan when the 1500-meter runner tested positive for a micro amount of a banned steroid (December 2020) that she claimed came from eating a pork offal (guts and stuff) burrito in Portland. Bye bye, Shelby.
They went south for the 2016 Rio Games Olympic Gold Medalist Breanna McNeal, who earned a chance to defend her Olympic title at the just-completed Trials until she lost her appeal of a five-year suspension for “tampering within the results management process.” A ruling by WADA’s Athletics Integrity Unit (which declined to release the full text of its decision – including specifics about the violation – due to “confidentiality reasons.” upheld McNeal’s suspension. There’s a lot to her case that bears close inspection. I feel for Breanna McNeal.
The World Anti-Doping Association website has all of its policies and positions.
A few days ago, things went south for the electric Sha’Carri Richardson, who lit up Hayward Field like a bolt of colorful and exuberant lightning running away with the women’s 100-meter dash to claim her spot on the U.S. Olympic team. After her race, Richardson tested positive for marijuana, yes marijuana, legal in many states including Oregon, and in no way considered a performance-enhancing drug, and was suspended for 30 days, which precludes her running the 100 in Tokyo: Reefer Madness Meets the World of Big Time Sports.
Track and Field is no different than any other sport: just when you get excited, something breaks your heart. My heart was broken this week for Sha’Carri Richardson.
Three weeks from now, when the Games start, the names above will mostly be afterthoughts, and sadly, only a few weeks after the Games, most of the names that will splash across TV screens here and in the rest of the world will fade into obscurity. Athletics (track and field) is just not as popular as soccer, football, and a bevy of other sports here and in the world.
Lost to that obscurity will be a long list of names of athletes who rightly or wrongly were denied the chance to compete, and no doubt, some of the winners at this year’s Games will join them after they compete and fail to meet WADA’s standards.
In all four cases listed above, there were extenuating circumstances too long to get into here, but the sad truth is that there is always an extenuating circumstance so the simple reality for athletes is they must comply or risk losing everything they have worked for. Right or wrong, stupid or not stupid, performance enhancing or not.Christian needed to set his alarm clock, Breanna needed to answer her doorbell, Shelby needed to get the tacos, and Sha’Carri needed to “just say no.”
In the grand scheme of things, cheating in sports is not on the level of other egregious things that take place in the world, after all, remember the part of the Olympic Games: The games part means this is not life and death, it is only sport. So too was me getting busted for urinating in a “public place,” which was equated in the statute for which I was cited with fondling, sodomy, and public intercourse, all considered lewd conduct in Olympia, Wash.
Lastly, I represented myself in court and was found guilty, and fined $10 instead of the cited $276, and told by Hanging Judge George Schultz, “Next time Joe, go further under the bridge.”