Drake and Michelle Obama speaking about an athlete? Must be Bolt… you know the GOAT 9x Olympic Champ. No… They, along with the rest of the internet, speak about Sha’Carri Richardson, a 21-year-old who hasn’t even been to the Olympics yet.
Why Sha’Carri? In case you’ve been living under a rock, black culture, and to be even more specific, African American lead culture and trends are the most influential in the world. Whether it be music of any genre but especially hip hop, fashion, or even down to viral TikTok dances. If you look at social media, “black Twitter” has a strong influence as I’m sure the track and field purists will know after all the “new fans’ ‘ fighting Sha’Carri case. The truth is they’re not new fans of track, they don’t wanna watch a 3k steeplechase or pole vault they just like Sha’Carri. This is the first time an African American since FloJo has connected and turned into a star just like Simone Biles or Serena Williams. Do people watch gymnastics probably not but they’ll retweet a 30 seconds clip of Biles.
Times have moved on now people could always see through the act but it was easy to maintain because without social media a star athlete or entertainer had an elemental mystery they weren’t accessible they were only judged by performance, the occasional interview usually heavily controlled and maybe an advert. Now people want much more frequent posts on Instagram and Twitter, maybe even a YouTube series or podcast appearance. This is where the authenticity comes into it, Sha’Carri is unapologetically herself a polarising character you have to love or hate there’s no fence. She’s more like Conor McGregor but track and field is a conservative sport. We like our stars to be less outspoken. Even Usain Bolt’s image is very safe, clean-shaven, no tattoos, no opinions, just the occasional party story.
People speak about things changing, but this situation shows most aren’t ready for change because it’s uncomfortable. Athletes and fans are upset that casuals don’t understand the sport, I’ve literally seen people say they want the new fans to go away. First of all, they’re not here for you, and secondly, how do you expect endorsement deals to improve if the interest in the sport doesn’t grow. The cultural divide in the sport is an issue that’s hard to get over people in positions of influence who don’t understand and those that do have to learn to play the game.