Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Sha’Carri, Phylicia are Due an Apology

Sha’Carri Richardson is a fallen athlete who was at the top of her game. She is literally the fastest woman in the world. She dominates the 100 meters, but she won’t be facing the other best sprinters at the Tokyo Olympics. Richardson was discovered to have smoked marijuana and subsequently was banned from the Olympic competition this summer.

Ironically, the offense occurred during Olympic Trials in Oregon, a state where the recreational use of marijuana is perfectly legal.

At the same time, renowned actress Phylicia Rashad is likely to not last long in her new position as dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, her alma mater. “I offer my most sincere apology,” not-long-to-be-Dean Rashad wrote in a letter to students and parents on Friday, just her second day on the job. She had received scorn for tweeting her support for her longtime television husband Cliff Huxtable, portrayed by disgraced comedian Bill Cosby.

Earlier in the week, she tweeted, along with a photo of Cosby, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” Cosby had just been released from a Pennsylvania state prison after the state Supreme Court overturned his questionable conviction. “The Coz” was released after the court vacated his 2018 conviction on sexual assault charges.

“My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault,” Rashad tweeted later. “I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.”

The university — in what is the first line of its letter dismissing the celebrity actor when that day rolls around eventually — wrote in a statement posted on its social media accounts, “Survivors of sexual assault will always be our first priority. While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.”

So, this is all about Cosby? Right?

“Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies,” the university said. Meanwhile, Howard has had its own challenges retaining celebrities in leadership positions on campus, from actor Bill Duke, who chaired the theater department, to Adam Clayton Powell III, general manager of WHUT-TV, to Tony Brown in its School of Communications.

Historically Black colleges and universities, and I suppose universities in general, all seem to like to chew up celebrity educators the way missionary Baptist Church Deacon boards chew up young ministers-of-music. She would have been on a slippery slope even without the Cosby kerfuffle.

Sha’Carri Richardson has not yet even begun a collegiate program. She is just an incredibly talented, very young athlete who can become a superstar, complete with “ghetto” earrings and hair color, and fingernails, and lengthy eye lashes. Clearly, she saw herself more like Cardi B than Wilma Rudolph.

But that should not tarnish her career anymore than the revelation that Vanessa Williams, the first Black Miss America, was outed for having posed for nude pictures before her beauty pageant ascent. She has outlived that scandal a dozen times over. Richardson can do the same.

Richardson consumed that controlled substance, she said, to help her cope with the sudden news before a race that her mother had died. She deserves an opportunity to compete again at the elite level.

SisStars like Sha’Carri and Phylicia need our support and encouragement. And Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams need our support as well. They deserve our support because they have earned it. And while we’re at it, the Lords of Social Media and Thought owe them heartfelt apologies for the sad way they have been treated just for waking us up.

Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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