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Media falls every time for the same old formula

Is Sha’Carri Richardson ‘still U.S. track’s biggest attraction’? Contrary to the headlines, it would seem not

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This Washington Post headline appeared in a Google search last week: “Sha’Carri Richardson is still U.S. track’s biggest attraction.”

There were headlines just like it in other news outlets, all of them calling Richardson the sport’s biggest “attraction.”

Oh, boy, here we go again.

If Richardson is the biggest thing in track and field, it’s only because of the media’s fascination with attention-seeking gimmicks. The media are like fish, attracted to bright, shiny things. All Richardson had to do to get attention was run a few fast races and, more importantly, wear some wild race outfits and neon-colored wigs. The fact that she had some spectacularly poor performances only added to the media intrigue.

It’s the same old formula. Dennis Rodman was just another good defensive player/rebounder in the NBA until he started dying his hair, piercing his face, dressing flamboyantly and saying outrageous things. The media ate that up and made him one of the NBA’s biggest attractions.

It’s the Madonna formula. Do or say something outrageous to command attention. The Kardashians know the formula, too. And Miley Cyrus for a time. Janet Jackson knew the formula and tried it out on a Super Bowl audience. It worked.

In their heydays, Florence Griffith Joyner and Gail Devers showed up in weird fashions and extravagant nails and makeup. At least they backed it up. They won Olympic gold medals. Now there’s Richardson, whom Vogue magazine called, “The Flo-Jo of our time.”

No, she’s not.

At the U.S. track and field championships last week, she was eliminated in the first round of the 100 meters. She had the 23rd fastest time (11.31) out of 31 entries. She also failed to qualify for the finals in the 200 meters. That means she will not compete in the world championships.

Richardson is talented and fast on occasion, but when she faced international competition last year she got smoked, pardon the pun. Richardson, you’ll remember, won the Olympic trials last summer and produced the sixth-fastest 100-meter time ever, but she was banned from the Olympics after she tested positive for marijuana. Before her comeback race two months later, she posted a message on Instagram: “Aug. 21, and I’m not playing nice.” She finished last in a 100-meter dash, a half-second behind the frontrunners; in track, that’s another area code.

She is track’s biggest attraction? Bigger than Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad, who both turned the world on its ear by smashing the world record in the Tokyo Olympics with times from a future generation?

Bigger than Athing Mu, the spectacular Olympic champion who seems capable of bringing down a world record that has stood since the Cold War Eastern bloc drug years?

Bigger than Valarie Allman, the sleek Olympic champion discus thrower?

Bigger than Devon Allen, who, months after signing a contract with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, ran the third-fastest time ever in the 110-meter hurdles and is a good bet to make his third Olympic team next year?

Bigger than Ryan Crouser, the two-time Olympic discus champion and Olympic record-holder?

After failing to deliver in the 100 and 200 in the U.S. championships last weekend, Richardson walked past reporters, refusing to speak to them, although later she returned to lecture and throw down a few insults at reporters — the same media that had called her the “biggest attraction.”

She did the same thing last summer after that last-place finish in the 100. “Count me out if you want to,” she said defiantly and angrily after that 2021 race. “Talk all the (expletive) you want, ’cause I’m here to stay! I’m not done. I’m the sixth-fastest woman in this game, ever. And can’t nobody ever take that from me.”

That drew quite a public backlash on the internet, but if anything we should feel sorry for Richardson. She’s been thrown into an arena in which she seems ill-prepared to handle, whether it’s big races or interviews.


Sha’Carri Richardson celebrates after winning the women’s 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.

Ashley Landis, Associated Press