Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Sha’Carri Richardson—they remind us of the power, purpose, and influence of Black women athletes when it comes to the Olympic Games buildup. The Olympics love them as the face of the games. But what about their voices, which are louder than ever when it comes to sexism, racism, mental health, and equity? Can these Olympic games handle that truth?
There are few symbols more iconic when it comes to the Olympic games than the torch that burns from the beginning of the games and isn’t doused out until its conclusion. It’s supposed to represent the blending of the times of today and the past in spirited, global competition.
Sounds good, huh?
But the Olympics are so much more than that, especially when you look at the role that Black women play in it. These summer games, like so many in recent years, find Black women once again taking their place as the pace-setters in the Olympic hype machine.
The antiquated International Olympic Committee and all of its flunky sub-committees have no problem with Black women, such as tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnastic legend Simone Biles (the G.O.A.T. if we’re keeping it real) being the face of the games.
It’s their voices that cause problems.
These Black women and so many others competing in the Olympic games this month have long since moved beyond the “shut up and dribble” nonsense that has quieted down into nothing but barely audible white noise when it comes to athletes addressing societal ills.
They speak truth to power when it comes to racism, sexism, mental health, and inequity. And that truth, that power is what scares the Olympic Games’ powers-that-be.
The Olympics brass isn’t all that different from the NCAA, having carried on for years this false narrative of fair play and equity that’s clearly without the secret sauce for success—common sense.
How else does the I.O.C. reason that it’s OK to create a “safety plan” for Alen Hadzic, a fencer competing in Tokyo who has at least three reported sexual misconduct accusations that are still open, not to mention being suspended from Columbia University in 2013 following a Title IX investigation into him sexually abusing a co-ed during a dorm party.
And yet, they couldn’t come up with a “safety plan” or any plan for that matter other than a suspension, for Sha’Carri Richardson because she smoked weed soon after her mother’s death?
Let’s not forget how Nike wanted to re-sign track legend Allyson Felix to a deal that would pay her 70 percent less after she had the audacity, the audacity, to bring another life into this world!
Did they really think that our community wouldn’t get wind of this and put them on blast? Seriously? When Felix’s story became mainstream news across the globe, Nike did it; they unveiled a new policy that expanded protections for pregnant athletes.
Great timing, right?
Felix reminded the world of the power and purpose that Black women athletes have when you push them too far.
And it is that power that makes so many in positions of power within the Olympics hierarchy, nervous as hell, fear of a 21st Century Tommy Smith-John Carlos moment.
Some will chalk up what we’re seeing as Black women being more “woke” when it comes to social activism. But the role of Black women in the social justice movement hasn’t expanded; but rather, it’s more acknowledged now than ever before.
NBA players got a lot of credit for their work towards social justice initiatives while in the Orlando, Fl. bubble during the latter part of the 2019-2020 season. But the athletes of the WNBA, had long put in that work towards raising awareness about the shortcomings of our criminal justice system, police shootings of unarmed Black men and women, social justice reform, and the importance of voting.
The state of Georgia has its first Black senator in Rev. Raphael Warnock, something that would have never happened if not for the boost his campaign received after the WNBA’s support. Players in the ‘W’ not only backed Sen. Warnock (D-Ga.) who was polling in single digits before their support, but they did so at a time when his chief rival, Kelly Loeffler, was a co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.
The voice of Osaka speaking truth to mental health challenges for athletes is not going anywhere.
Felix flexin’ her voice when it comes to fair treatment for women or Biles opening up about her experiences with racism in a sport that has historically lacked diversity, those stories will continue to be told as well.
These are just some of the Black women in Tokyo who will keep that conversation for change hot as ever. But unlike the Olympic torch, their words, their calls for action, won’t be doused out when the games end.