WTH, Olympics? Four issues we want to talk to the manager about…

  • Action #1: “Natural form of the head.” Whose head are we talking about exactly? #BlackGirlsDon’tSwim
  • Action #2: Ask the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to find their heart for Sha’Carri Richardson
  • Action #3: Ask the President of the International Olympic Committee to do better for Brianna McNeal.
  • Action #4: Have Gwen Berry’s back.
  • Action #4a: New petition to IOC sponsors from Color of Change – Companies must denounce IOC Rule 50

Not all the actions below target our usual suspects of state and federal legislators. But, like the actions of our politicians, international events like the Olympics can have profound effects that empower or disaffect Americans. So, being “indivisible,” when something bad, or really dumb occurs, we try to figure out what we can do about it.

Action #1: “Natural form of the head.” Whose head are we talking about exactly? #BlackGirlsDon’tSwim

We are pretty sure that the International Swimming Federation (FINA), which casually declined to certify a swim cap that accommodated Black hair, is now searching desperately for a face-saving exit strategy. In fact, by the time you read this, they may have already done so, as they just issued a statement: “FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage. FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.

Although FINA will allow these caps for recreational and teaching purposes, not seeing Black athletes wearing this inclusive accommodation in competition and on the medal podiums, continues the disenfranchisement of Black children and adults from swimming pools, and the literally life-saving benefits that learning to swim conveys.

Contact: If they don’t figure out how to reel this back in soon, write FINA here: sportsdep@fina.org

Sample Email: I have reviewed FINA General Rules, FINA guidelines for the Tokyo Games and FINA bylaws. In each of these, exacting attention has been paid to the number, size and location of corporate logos on swim caps. Beyond that, instructions basically stopped at “it is permissible to wear two.” Nowhere does the wording that a cap “conform to the natural form of the head” appear.

If the same amount of attention had been paid to accommodating the breadth of athlete needs, and less on the commercialization of their sportswear, you wouldn’t be in the center of this publicity nightmare right now. As for your prohibition on equipment that confers unfair advantage, it is clear that a larger cap would increase drag and resistance, creating a additional handicap for a swimmer to overcome.

Apologize, then fix this. Allow ALL competitive swimmers to wear swim caps that comfortably accommodate their natural hair, starting with the Tokyo Games. Help Black athletes find a real welcome in swimming as they do in other sports. This will increase the popularity of your competitions to a broader audience, as more people will be encouraged to learn to swim, for safety, exercise and enjoyment. Then move on to finding an approvable full-length swimsuit that would allow Muslim women to compete as well.

Action #2: Ask the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to find their heart for Sha’Carri Richardson

Many of us were shocked and saddened to hear that track star Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for testing positive for THC, mostly because it is a cruel and retrograde rule rooted in the systemic racism behind marijuana laws.

Contact: Write them your opinion about this issue here. (usada@usada.org) You can copy your script to Team USA (US Olympic & Paralympic Foundation) here and to the USATF here.

Sample script: I understand that there are three issues regarding the use of marijuana that justified suspending Sha’Carri Richardson, stripping her of her victory in the 100m race at the U.S. Track and field trials and endangering her place on eliminating her from the U.S. Olympic track team.

  • “Health risks”: Marijuana, legal in 16 states, is no more a health risk than alcohol, or cigarettes, which are also legal substances with long-term, chronic health effects.
  • “Potential to enhance performance”: Your own medical director says that there is no evidence of that. Professional sports teams agree, as the MLB, NHL and NFL have all removed penalties for its use.
  • “Violating the spirit of sport”: It should be clear, from the public blowback to your suspension of Ms. Richardson, which included a letter from the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights, that the violation was all yours.

Not only are you continuing to enforce a outdated prohibition that was weaponized against Black communities, you are guilty of the worse crime of having no mercy. Ms. Richardson was publicly traumatized by learning of her mother’s death from a reporter, and was driven to self-treat a “triggering and nerve shocking” experience that sent her into a state of “emotional panic.” Medical marijuana, already allowable under the your own guidelines for athletes with neuropathic pain, is a known treatment for PTSD and anxiety.

Figure out how to insert compassion back into the Olympics. Let Ms. Richardson submit a retroactive “Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)” for “Emergency or urgent treatment of a medical condition;” or for using a “substance/medication/method out-of-competition that is prohibited in-competition only,” in clear recognition that emotional and mental health issues are as important as a sprained ankle. Do not let her stoic acceptance of your heartless punishment lead you to believe that your actions have not tarnished the spirit of the Olympics in the public eye.

  • Additional action #1: Sign this petition here.
  • Additional action #2: Call the USATF here: [612-445-2774 press 4] and tell them that you were super disappointed in them for their decision to not put Sha’Carri Richardson on the roster EVEN THOUGH she will have completed her penalty by the time of the race. Watch Jessica Craven do this action here for inspiration!

Action #3: Ask the President of the International Olympic Committee to do better for Brianna McNeal.

(theroot) “After qualifying at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month, Brianna McNeal should be defending her 100-meter hurdles championship in Tokyo later this month. But due to a brazen lack of compassion on behalf of governing bodies for the Olympic Games, she won’t get the chance.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) denied the 29-year-old gold medalist’s appeal of a five-year ban for violating anti-doping policies, which means that not only is McNeal disqualified from competing in either the Tokyo Olympics or the Paris Olympics in 2024, the court added the condition that all of her competitive results from February 13, 2020 to August 14, 2020 will be disqualified and she must return any “medals, titles, points, prize money and prizes” she earned during that time period.

McNeal had not been accused of doping. The five year ban stemmed from her missing a doping test in Jan. 2020, while recovering from a recent abortion. She could have missed three before she would have been in trouble. But she was convinced that her doctor’s office had erred on the date of the procedure by one day, so she changed it on medical records she submitted to prove that she had an abortion. (From her tweet)

Sample script to Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC):

Contact: (Submit here AND here)

Dear President Bach,

I read the article IOC President: Sport can contribute to rebuild a more human-centred and inclusive society” and I was struck by your words – “Sport has a great social significance by being the glue which bonds communities together. Sport has a great economic significance by creating jobs and generating an important contribution to GDP. This essential role of sport has been recognised by many in the international community, from the EU to the United Nations, and many others...This is why sport must prepare for this new world and be ready to contribute to rebuild a more human-centred and inclusive society.” Your speech also mentioned increasing gender equity, not only in athlete participation, but in IOC board membership as well.

I hope you truly believe your words regarding a more inclusive society, and are prepared to use that belief to right at least one injustice.

Brianna McNeal, a Black American woman, was convicted by CAS, not of a doping violation, but for her firm belief that a medical procedure took place 24 hours later than it did. For this, she was banned from participating in both the Tokyo and Paris Olympics, her competitive results from February 13, 2020 to August 14, 2020 were disqualified and she was ordered to return any “medals, titles, points, prize money and prizes” she earned during that time period.

She described her trauma of testifying before White European men who belittled her – “I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “how could these men tell me what type of experience I should have had; how can these men who would never in a million years be in my shoes tell me anything I should be going through?” So instead of being met with some sort of compassion and understanding, I was being interrogated and stigmatized. (More of her statement here. https://twitter.com/Bri_Rollin/status/1411068752515538952)

This excessively punitive judgement against a Black female athlete, which will kill her career, is over a small error from a traumatic experience that many women would recognize and understand. This is an injustice completely at odds with your wish for a “more human-centered and inclusive society.” I understand that Olympic international federations and National Olympic Committees have ceded resolutions of anti-doping rule violations to CAS. But you would be well advised to demand that this organization prove that this decision against Ms. McNeal serves your expanded vision, that they are similarly increasing inclusive representation in their work and to do better in treating women fairly and compassionately.

Ms. McNeal asks “Where are the people who are supposed to protect the athletes that are doing things right and find themselves in human mistakes?” I’m hoping that it’s you.

Action #4: Have Gwen Berry’s back.

(refinery29.com) “U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry has received intense criticism and backlash from conservatives for her activism in sports over the weekend. During the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon, where Berry placed third and secured her spot in the Tokyo summer Olympics next month, Berry turned her back on the American flag as the national anthem played. As the song continued, she draped a black T-shirt with the words “Activist Athlete” over her head.. The athlete said she felt caught off guard by the anthem playing as she took her spot on the podium. “I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said, according to The Associated Press. “I was pissed, to be honest.” She said she thought the song would play before taking the podium. “They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.” 

(Wait for it…Racist, seditionist backlash to start in three…two…one…)

Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw said during an appearance on Fox & Friends that Berry should be removed from the team. “We don’t need any more activist athletes,” Crenshaw said, later adding that the “bare minimum requirement” for representing the U.S. in the Olympics is that “you believe in the country.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also commented on Berry’s defiance, writing on Twitter, “Why does the Left hate America?’

Seriously, Dan. She’s an athlete. It’s not her job to “believe in the country.” That’s literally your job, which you, Ted and your fellow seditionists muffed on Jan. 6th. As an athlete, it’s her job to work so hard, she wins her place on our Olympic team. As an American, it’s her job to continue to press her country to do better.

Respond to legislator nonsense as you see it.

  • If your legislators are seditionists (House members here) or epic racists, and have unwisely stepped into this issue, email or call them to remind them that no athletes has threatened democracy or the functioning of our government like they did during the insurrection.
  • Thank legislators who support our athletes and condemn the racism and authoritarianism of their co-legislators.

Contacts

  • Rep. Julia Brownley: email(CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
  • or Rep. Salud Carbajal: email.(CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
  • Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
  • and Senator Padilla: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (310) 231-4494, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 981-9369, SD (619) 239-3884
  • Who is my representative/senator?: https://whoismyrepresentative.com

You can tweet anyone you like! Twitter accounts for senators and representatives here.

Action #4a: Color of Change petition to IOC sponsors – Denounce Rule 50.

(Color of Change) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is standing by its an oppressive policy, Rule 50, which silences the free expression of Black athletes during the Summer Olympics. The policy bans athletes from kneeling, raising their fists, or wearing signs or symbolic armbands. At a time of heightened political awareness and the threat of a world war, athletes who take a stand for justice are being told to “shut up and play.”

There is no real peace in the absence of justice and there is no victory when individuals are silenced.

The policy is extremely problematic because as we know, “taking a knee” and “raising fists” are directly associated with justice for Black people. And with no clearly defined consequences in the policy, the IOC has the power to come up with arbitrary punishments that can be implemented differently for individual athletes.

The IOC’s policy is a direct attack on athlete activists like gold medalist Gwen Berry who boldly raised her fist in protest last year. Two gold medalists at last year’s Pan American Games–Gwen Berry and Race Imboden–continued the legacy of athlete activism by protesting during the national anthem of their medal ceremonies. And now, the IOC has created this oppressive policy, clearly in retaliation, while stating that the mission of the Olympic Games is to bring the entire world together and facilitate the understanding of different views. 

The sponsors of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics include several American corporations whose company values are not aligned with silencing the free expression of Black athletes. We must demand they speak out!

Many of the corporate sponsors of the Olympics are industry leaders which have company missions and values that are in direct contrast with silencing free expression. We will not allow them to be complicit as the IOC attempts to control Olympic athletes. Additionally, the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee–a congressionally chartered non-profit organization–has a legal obligation to defend Black athletes right to protest. With the Olympics approaching rapidly, we need to put as much pressure as possible on these companies and the USOPC to stand with athletes.

Sign petition here. (https://act.colorofchange.org/sign/ioc-stop-silencing-athletes/)

Interesting information on athlete protests:

It’s American to protest:

As James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”  Gwen Berry would agree. “My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports. I’m here to represent those … who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.” She tweeted “I never said I hated this country! People try to put words in my mouth, but they can’t. That’s why I speak out.

(WaPo) “Compulsory patriotism is not at all an American value; it is its own form of treachery. In fact, it’s hard to identify a braver American impulse than the one to speak freely from a platform in the face of pressure. It’s our sacrifice. It’s our podium. It’s our moment,” Berry said after the trials. Which the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee rightly recognized when it loosened its rules on social justice protests and rescinded a sanction against Berry for raising a fist at the Pan American Games in 2019.

The sanction, known as Rule 50, of the Olympic charter, remains for the Tokyo Olympics. It reads in part: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The International Olympic Committee, claiming their decision was based on a survey of their athletes, warned of punishment against those protest, peacefully or otherwise. One athletes’ organization promised legal assistance for Olympians punished by the IOC.

Said Kevin Blackstone of the Washington Post:

I, however, wholly support the rule. After all, are you really protesting if you do so only after being granted permission?

Protest is not a cooperative event. It is a confrontation. As the Organization of American States reminded in a recent report on protest and human rights, “the exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to previous authorization by the authorities.”

When protest is negotiated, it can be diminished. It can be defanged. It can be dampened. Already, the protest movements that have defined this early part of the 21st century, particularly those we have seen in sports, have given way to too much agreement, if not outright commodification, which has led to the diminution of their messages. The sting of Colin Kaepernick’s organic kneeling during the national anthem to protest the unchecked extrajudicial killing of Black men was mediated to allow those who desired to pick up where Kaepernick was lopped off to do so but out of sight and off the field.

When protest is prohibited, it stands out. It resonates. It captures and demands our attention, our curiosity, and makes us investigate. When Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finish line at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games while crossing his arms, many of us wondered why. We learned it was the gesture made by people from Oromia, the region home to Lilesa and Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, to protest a brutal government crackdown.

When the NBA, interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, returned amid the George Floyd uprising, it did so with “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on its hardwood and players allowed to sport catchphrases and watchwords on their jerseys — as long as they were approved by the league. But none of that resonated as much as when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play a playoff game just before tip-off out of disgust after the police shooting in Kenosha, Wis., of a Black man, Jacob Blake.

The NBA jersey messages proved to be little more than sloganeering; this season, the league returned to its entertainment-first past. But the Bucks’ protest triggered other athletes to shut down their games and forced broadcasters to engage in discussions about race and policing before audiences that hoped sports would provide them sanctuary from the issues.

The decision last week by Olympic organizers only fertilized soil in which the quadrennial Games have forever been planted. The Olympics exist in opposition to their own pronouncements against politicization and protest. The Games, featuring jingoistic flag-waving, have always been nationalistic.

It is the height of disingenuousness for Olympic organizers to claim political purity and force it upon participants, to threaten punitive measures for those who again would — and should — use the Games to prove otherwise. Lilesa wasn’t an anomaly. And Smith and Carlos weren’t the first.

The 1906 Games included Irishman Peter O’Connor, forced to participate under the British flag during a spike in Ireland’s independence movement, unfurling a flag emblazoned with “Erin Go Bragh,” or “Ireland forever.”Advertisement

And in between, many countries boycotted the Olympics, as the United States did the 1980 Moscow Games, to make political points about another country’s participation. African countries banded together to keep out South Africa, whose White leaders and citizens were ramping up their brutality against the indigenous Black population; South Africa’s 21-year Olympic ban helped to dismantle the country’s apartheid government.

None of those individuals or entities negotiated the right to protest with Olympic organizers. They just did what they thought was best and used the Olympic stage to broadcast their positions, repercussions be damned.

What the IOC last week did was what it has always done: invite protest. What athletes with something to say should do is what their predecessors have always done: accept the invitation with glee.

Fellow protesters you may remember:

1967: Boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector and was stripped of his heavyweight title as a result.

1968: Black U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won gold and silver respectively in the 200-meter final at the Mexico City Olympic Games, raised their fists and bowed their heads during the national anthem, along with Australian Peter Norman.

2016: Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick lost his job after he refused to stand for the national anthem against racial oppression

2016:  Players for WNBA teams the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury started wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts to games in protest of police violence.

And a whole lot you may not: “Athletes and activism: The long defiant history of sports protest” here.

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