Sha’Carri Richardson has just earned herself yet another award! Over the weekend, the 23-year-old athlete was honored at the USA Track and Field (USATF) Night of Legends for her remarkable performances in track this year.
The track star took home the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Athlete of the Year for women Award. She secured the honor after winning multiple races at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest earlier this year. At the time, Richardson stole the show and earned the top spots in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and the women’s 4 x 100-meter relay team.
Upon accepting the award, Richardson gave a heartfelt speech where she touched on her faith in God as well as her influence and impact. She also took the time to acknowledge the responsibility she has to herself, her family and the beautiful women who support her. “With the God that I serve, everything happens when it’s supposed to happen. So when I stand here today as the world champion, that’s because now was the time for that to happen. Now is the most impactful it would be, the most powerful it would be and the most sincere it would be,” Richardson said.
She continued, “I understand the influence that I have, I understand the responsibility that I have to USATF and as a top female USA athlete, and to my country, and to my black family, to my beautiful women, to everybody that has been misunderstood for trying to be their best selves and not be put into a category because they do track and field and have been put in a bubble.”
Richardson is definitely in her comeback season. After her Olympic Trial 100-meter win was disqualified for a positive marijuana test in 2021, she went on to defy the odds and come back with a vengeance, winning her first major world title earlier this year. And now, with this Athlete of the Year win under her belt, it’s safe to say that our girl is becoming unstoppable!
“We have mutually decided that it is best for us to move forward in life AS FRIENDS and have made this decision with love in our hearts, respect for each other, and appreciation for the time we’ve shared together,” Edmonds and Sanders wrote in a joint statement on her Instagram page.
“Please keep us in your prayers as we go through this transition. Thank you for being there for us ALL THESE YEARS! We love you and appreciate you SO MUCH!”
The now-exes have ended their four-year engagement.
The HEIR App is seeking to transform the way athletes and fans interact with each other. Co-founded by Jeffery M. Jordan—son of basketball great Michael Jordan—Jeron Smith and Daniel George, HEIR is the first product launched by Heir Inc., “a next-generation holding company that connects brands at the intersection of sports, tech, and entertainment.”
A player-focused app, the digital platform allows community members to gain exclusive access to athletes and one-of-a-kind experiences.
EBONY spoke with Briana Richardson, HEIR’s Head of Product about the launch of the app, the needs of Gen Z sports fans, and the team’s vision to connect athletes with their fans
EBONY: What led the team at HEIR Inc. to launch this app?
Briana Richardson: Our founders, Jeffrey, Jaron, and Daniel all know each other from Nike. It all started with the idea that athletes today have to bring their communities together on channels that they don’t own. They have social media platforms, which are already regulated by the League, but they don’t really have the opportunity to own the stories themselves. So when the company was founded, it was really centered on whether players should have more control over their narratives. This was actually before NIL became what it is today. The team saw an opportunity based on previous experiences that athletes don’t get the flexibility and the control that they should have for how much value they bring to their sports. So there was a high emphasis on evolution from the athlete’s perspective. We wanted to make it easier for these athletes to bring their own communities together through a channel where they have maximum control. Now their content reaches them, and they’re able to monetize it, however, they see fit.
Can you speak to how Gen Z fans are underserved in the sports world and how HEIR serves this demographic?
HEIR is at the epicenter of Gen Z sports culture. We found that Gen Z consumers are so different from other consumers, and that’s not just for sports, but for everything in every industry. They want to have an experience that’s very different from what consumers had before. In sports, we feel like there are some definitive points that we’ve heard from our consumers that we really leaned into when we were building the app. So the first thing we learned is that with Gen Z-ers, you have eight seconds or less, short attention span You really can’t have these long-drawn-out videos. That’s why TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram Reels are so popular.
We focus on just highlights and being able to catch the biggest moments of the night before, We also focus on the player first versus the team or the league. A lot of Gen Z consumers, or Gen Z in general, look to identify more on a personal level. So the way we deliver our entire experience is through the lens of the player. Whether that’s looking at content or stats, we view it through the lens of the player first.
Would you say that sports fans today want to be more interactive with athletes than previous generations?
Yes, personal connection is big for them. If you think about sports and the way it’s consumed right now, you and I could jump on any of these apps, and it would be a solo experience. We could both be on ESPN right now and know that both of us are on ESPN doing the same thing. The difference with HEIR is that it centers on the fact that Gen Z loves community. They want to find homes virtually or find other people that are similar to them, the same way of describing athletes. So we very much focus on having that experience on our app as well.
NBA stars Anthony Edwards and Lonzo Ball are featured athletes on the app. How did they become a part of HEIR?
Jeffery, Jaron and Daniel have known Anthony and Lonzo for many years. They fell in love with that ownership piece. If you think about it, a lot of athletes may have their own signature line of clothing or other endorsements. But we think today’s athlete wants more freedom to express themselves and the freedom to control how they can express themselves. When you look at their social media, it’s more like fulfilling obligations that they may have with other partnerships. But we position it to them as an avenue for them to be themselves. A human first and an athlete second. Anthony and Lonzo were drawn to those ideas.
But his bursting athletic brilliance, so evocative of Iverson, comes with a cost: the perceived menace of the Black gangster.
On March 4, 2023, Morant posted an Instagram Live video of him displaying a gun at a Denver strip club. Colorado is an open carry state, but it’s illegal to carry a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. Though Morant was never charged for a crime, the NBA suspended him eight games for “conduct detrimental to the league.”
To many politicians and activists in the gun-obsessed U.S., the freedom to own and flaunt firearms is a sacred right. And yet throughout the nation’s history, gun ownership among Black Americans has elicited fear and recrimination. Even when folks who look like Morant innocuously and legally possess a gun, they find themselves too easily typecast as villains.
Disciplining ‘thugs’ and ‘children’
The NBA has long had a fraught relationship with its Black superstars.
Players openly professed their love for rap music, with stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Iverson and others recording and releasing music. Players wore oversized T-shirts, baggy jeans and New Era fitted caps as they traveled. You’d see durags and iced-out diamond chains during postgame interviews.
First, there was the notorious “Malice at the Palace,” during which players for the Indiana Pacers went into the stands to fight fans who had provoked them at Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills stadium.
A year later, there was an infamous Team USA dinner in Serbia. As The Washington Post reported, “Iverson and some of his fellow National Basketball Association professionals arrived wearing an assortment of sweat suits, oversize jeans, shimmering diamond earrings and platinum chains … Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach of the U.S. team, was appalled and embarrassed.”
Former commissioner David Stern went on to institute a controversial dress code for NBA players, banning, among other things, baggy clothing, along with the display of gaudy jewelry. But Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson exposed the ban’s quiet truth.
“The players have been dressing in prison garb the last five or six years,” he said. “All the stuff that goes on, it’s like gangster, thuggery stuff.”
The NBA decided its foray into the marketing of hip-hop with basketball required a paternalist brand of discipline to keep its players’ “street cool” in line and avoid the poisonous image of Black criminality.
And like Jackson all those years ago, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, on the network’s Lowe Post basketball podcast, criticized Morant with not so subtle racial undertones.
“Ja Morant is a child,” he announced. “This guy is so worried about being cool: ‘Look at me, man: Life is like a rap video.’”
The NBA’s gun culture
Ja Morant isn’t the first NBA player to find himself in trouble for wielding firearms.
In 2006, Stephen Jackson was suspended just seven games for firing a gun after an altercation at an Indianapolis strip club. In 2010, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were suspended for 50 and 38 games, respectively, after pulling guns on each other in the Washington Wizards team facilities. And in 2014, Raymond Felton was suspended four games after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an incident where he threatened his estranged wife with a gun.
Like Ja, all these players are Black. But unlike his situation, these incidents were violent, criminal offenses.
The closest analogues to Ja Morant are Chris Kaman and Draymond Green. Kaman, a former center who is white, posted pictures of his arsenal to social media in 2012, 2013 and 2016. In 2018, during a trip to Israel, Golden State Warriors star forward Draymond Green posed with an assault weapon. Neither Kaman nor Green was suspended for their posts.
To me, the answer is simple: In America, armed Black folks conjures pathological criminality.
Guns, since the nation’s inception, have fortified a uniquely American masculine fantasy: the revolutionary and the cowboy, the cop and the soldier, the spy, the hunter, the gangster – all coalesce around the presumed thrill of the trigger. These fantasies reflect the National Rifle Association’s most pernicious and oddly patriotic lie: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
In her telling, this story begins in Morant’s home state of South Carolina, where the Negro Act of 1722 and the Negro Slave Act of 1740 argued Blacks were “instinctually criminal” and abolished their access to weapons and right to self-defense.
So if people are so sure of Morant’s villainy, I ask without a hint of snark: What does responsible Black gun ownership look like?
Does it look like Philando Castile? Do we see it in Marissa Alexander, who was sent to prison after she fired a warning shot at her husband, who had threatened to kill her?
To me, this was never about guns – just as, back in the early 2000s, it was never about rap music or baggy clothing.
It’s about white paternalism. It’s about how Black people can’t be trusted with weapons. It’s about how the country’s veneration of gun ownership as an inalienable right is seconded only by its commitment to rendering armed Blacks an existential danger to the civility and structure of America.
Blackness seems to disavow any possibility of being a “good guy,” gun or not. Kyle Rittenhouse was a “good guy with a gun.” So, too, was George Zimmerman. Both meted out extrajudicial killings, and both emerged unpunished.
According to this warped, uniquely American fantasy, “good guys with guns” can never look like Ja Morant – and good guys can always kill bad guys.