Rules are Rules

Dr. Malcolm Cross

More and more news stories are being published or broadcast about athletes wanting to participate in the Tokyo Olympics.  Two athletes in particular are attracting attention.  Rules are necessary to promote orderly and fair athletic competition.   But here are growing demands that one of them be allowed to participate in the Olympics even though she has been suspended from competition for breaking a rule.  There are also growing demands that another athlete be banned from the Olympics even though, as of this writing, she has broken no rules.  Both sets of demands should be rejected.

Of all the aspiring Olympians, perhaps no one has attracted more sympathetic attention than the popular sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson.  Widely believed to have a lock on a medal for the 100 meter race later this month, she has nonetheless been suspended from competition for 30 days because last week she tested positive for marijuana usage.   Thus she can’t compete in the 100m race to be held early in the Olympics.  However, should she make it onto America’s team, she will still be able to participate in later Olympic events once her suspension is over.

Ms. Richardson admits to having broken the anti-marijuana rule, claiming she did so to emotionally cope with the death of her mother, and she has accepted her suspension with good grace. But many supporters are demanding that the rule against marijuana usage be waived in her case.  They argue that that the rule is ridiculous:  Marijuana is not illegal in Oregon, where Ms. Richardson used it.  Moreover, it is not a performance-enhancing drug—its use would not give her a competitive advantage over her opponents, should she run after all.

But to waive the rule in Ms. Richardson’s case would set a bad precedent.  Waiver would mean that the popular need not follow the same rules as everyone else.  How fair is that?

And then there’s the case of hammer thrower Gwenda Berry, who won a place on America’s Olympic team and proceeded, in the opinion of many, to make a horse’s rear end of herself.  At the ceremony concluding the selection of hammer throwers for the Olympics, Ms. Berry refused to stand at attention for the national anthem or the American flag.  Rather, she looked away and covered her head with a sweatshirt or some such garment to protest racism in America.

Her conduct has elicited numerous and growing demands for her removal from the team.  In essence, those who want her off say she should not be allowed to represent America when she seemingly holds America in such contempt.  Ms. Berry claims not to hate America, but wants to fight racism by whatever means she can.  Not only have her protests failed to win over her critics, they’ve elicited further charges of racism and hypocrisy on her part:  A review of her social media posts has unearthed comments in which she’s joked about rape and made disparaging remarks about Latinos, the
Chinese, and Whites.  

But assuming everything being said about her is true—an assumption requiring more research before making a definitive conclusion—Ms. Berry, having won a place on the team by playing by the rules, should not now be removed from it.  Her words and antics, however deplorable they might seem, have apparently broken no rule.  In the absence of evidence of rule breaking by Ms. Berry, her removal would also set a bad precedent:  Her removal would show that for the unpopular, not even adherence to the rules will protect them from their enemies.  How fair is that?

And there’s another reason for keeping Ms. Berry on the team:  Any athlete in Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea who pulled Ms. Berry’s stunts would soon find herself with a won way ticket to, at best, a slave labor camp and, at worst, a firing squad or hangman’s noose.  Keeping Ms. Berry on America’s team will be a fitting way of showing that her opinion not withstanding, America is truly the moral superior of these evil regimes, and that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave:  Ms. Berry is free enough to express her views, and we’re brave enough to risk the consequences.

President Biden, when asked to comment on Ms. Richardson’s case, wisely and accurately said “Rules are rules.”  They can be changed, but until they are, they must be obeyed to promote orderly and fair competition for which they are designed.  To let Ms. Richardson escape the consequences of her violation of the rules, and to punish Ms. Berry despite her adherence to the rules, will undermine the purpose of the rules and make a mockery of athletic competition at the Olympics and wherever else athletes at all levels compete.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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