Reflecting on the World Athletics Championships recently concluded in Budapest, I find that I enjoyed a few of the language performances by Sha’Carri Richardson and Shericka Jackson almost as much as I admired their scintillating displays of speed at 100 and 200 meters. For example, Sha’Carri’s 10.65 in the 100 was no joke, a top-five clocking in history to lock down the gold medal. But she also put in razor-sharp verbal performances with respect to handling reporters. As a group, they hadn’t been kind to her since 2021, when she tested positive for THC---after a reporter ambushed her with a question about the passing of Sha’Carri’s mother when the sprinter hadn’t even heard the news yet! No chill. The bash festival was on. Reporter hateration was out of control. Eagerly looking for what to them was good, profitable copy, they criticized faster than Sha’Carri can run. Prominent Black figures, including female athletes such as Serena Williams and Simone Biles know about this sort of thing. (Coco, watch out!)
Sha’Carrri was disqualified from the Olympics in the 100 and not chosen for the 4 x 100 for which she was eligible, having completed her suspension before the race. Weren’t any track officials or reporters looking to do Sha’Carri any favors. No way she couldn’t have at least run a preliminary round on the relay team. The following year, 2022, she didn’t qualify for the World Athletics Championships. Not many among the media were sympathetic. At the U.S. nationals, which is where she failed to qualify, she chastised reporters for chasing negative stories without regard to how athletes may be feeling. A great speaker, she talked about treating athletes with more respect than jamming cameras in front of their faces during difficult moments.
She was in peak verbal form in Budapest. At one point, she proclaimed, “Never allow media, never allow outsiders, never let anything but yourself and your faith define who you are.” She didn’t directly name anyone in the media. She touched them up indirectly, which is how you do it when operating in the Black signifyin tradition. Y’all know who y’all is! Some were the reporters that, following her exchange with Lewis Johnson after her W in the 100 meters, she passed by, politely declining interview requests. She received plenty criticism for having the nerve to give an interview only to a Black reporter. Even saying “No, thank you,” the way our mamas taught, didn’t shield her from attacks on social media.
In the interview room, she had to get direct for a moment. A reporter with whom she had history asked the first question, which he prefaced by reminding the world that Sha’Carri failed to make the previous world championships. She had schooled the dude about sensitivity before, but it didn’t take. So she told him, ““Obviously, I didn’t make the team last year. I don’t think you had to say that.” Then she attributed her current success to “Blocking out the noise. Blocking out media like yourself.” Go write that!
At the press conference following Shericka Jackson’s triumph at 200 meters---Sha’Carri captured the bronze---a reporter asserted that “women’s records from the 1980s can’t be trusted.” He was referring to Flo-Jo’s time of 21.34, which he assumes was steroids-enabled. He asked Shericka if she considered herself to really be the world record holder, given that no one has beaten her tremendous time of 21.41 other than Flo-Jo.
Shericka went on patient lecturer mode. In her beautiful Jamaican lilt, she explained that if someone has never failed a drug test, then she cannot comment---comMENT as she pronounces it, her accent being perfect. She said she is not the world recORD holder, and implied that there was no need to pose that question in the future. (It wasn’t the first time it was asked.) I hope the point will become moot. With the right track, wind, and temperature, she has a shot at 21.34. Not likely, but possible. I’m rooting for her.
The ever-eloquent Sha’Carri got back to signifyin. When asked about a rivalry, presumably a bitter one, between Jamaican and U.S. sprinters, Sha’Carri emphasized the respect that athletes have for one another, “regardless of what y’all media may say and do.” Then she hit the reporter pool with a classic Black woman eye roll.
Shericka wasn’t finished. The rivalry may be respectful, but it’s still a rivalry. When asked how she would celebrate her victory, she responded, “I’m not gonna celebrate now. Probably not now. Probably after the 4 x 100.” Ouch! The 4 x 100 would feature Shericka and Sha’Carri as the anchors. Then she snake-naked as African women do around the world and half turned away from Sha’Carri. Take that! When she resettled, she folded her arms like “what? I said what I said.” Then Sha’Carri looked toward Shericka and sucked her teeth as only a Black woman can and tossed in a little snake-necking of her own with a priceless expression on her face that meant we gon see about that! They both laughed. Track and linguistic champions.