As a child, I remember watching the TV special Puff the Magic Dragon. The story is about an ageless dragon name Puff and his playmate, Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff to be with himself. The story takes place “by the sea” in the fictional land of “Honah Lee”. The lyrics for “Puff, the Magic Dragon” are based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton and were fun to sing.
However, as I got older, there were speculations that the song was about smoking reefer, pot, marijuana!! Now, whether this is true or not, it does makes sense considering the TV special came out in the early 60s and smoking pot was rampant among people during the Flower Power times.
When you break down the lyrics, many interpreted them this way:
The word “paper” in the name of Puff’s human friend Jackie Paper was said to be a reference to rolling papers, the words “by the sea” were interpreted as “by the C” (as in cannabis), the word “mist” stood for “smoke”, the land of “Honahlee” stood for hashish, and “dragon” was interpreted as “draggin'” (i.e., inhaling smoke). Similarly, the name “Puff” was alleged to be a reference to taking a “puff” on a joint.
Anyway, I use this story as a backdrop and intro to smoking weed (puffing the magic dragon) and its consequences experienced by Sha’Carri Richardson. Although its use is legal in many states, it is not allowed in the world of sports. With that said, let’s sprint into the post at hand!
Sha’Carri Richardson: Who is She?
Richardson is known for her long nails and her colorful hair on the field is a Black-American track and field sprinter who competes in the 100 and 200 meters. In 2019, as a freshman attending Louisiana State University, Richardson rose to fame, running 10.75 seconds to break the 100 m record at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships. This winning time made her one of the ten fastest women in history at 19 years of age.
The Running Story Unfolds
Richardson qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics with a 100-meter time of 10.86 seconds at the 2020 United States Olympic Trials. Twenty-one-year-old Richardson became one of the fastest women in the world after dominating the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials in June of 2021. She crossed the finish line in 10.86 seconds, solidifying her position as the 8th fastest female 100-meter dasher in world history, according to the USA Track and Field.
Of course, for me, as a Black American female, I was so proud of her. Just seeing how one after another, our people continue to accomplish great things and positively contribute to American history. So, I like many others, was shocked when news broke that Richardson, shortly before the Tokyo Olympics, tested positive for some form of drug. At first, many believed it was for using steroids which tends to be a common theme in sports, for performance-enhancing. Instead, she tested positive for marijuana, violating the anti-doping policy, knocking her out of the Tokyo Olympics.
After successfully completing a counseling program, she accepted a one-month period of ineligibility that began on June 28, 2021. While Richardson will be ineligible for the Olympic 100 meters due to a 30-day suspension that ends July 27, 2021, she could have been eligible for the Women’s 4 × 100 relay scheduled for August 5, 2021. However, she was not selected, thereby missing the Olympics entirely.
Richardson stated that she took the drug to cope with the pressure of qualifying for the Olympics while mourning the recent death of her mother. She reported that she found out about her mother’s death in an interview, which “sent me in a state of mind, in a state of emotional panic.” I know what I’m allowed not to do, but I still made that decision. I’m not making any excuses,” Richardson said.
I empathize with her and can understand what she was and still is going through. I respect her acceptance of her punishment. She knew what she was doing was against the anti-doping rules but chose to deal with what she was going through the best way she believed worked for her. She accepted accountability for her actions.
In the World Anti-Doping Code, in the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions it reads:
‘The purpose of the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (ISTUE) is to harmonize the process of granting TUEs across sports and countries. The WADA TUE process ensures athletes can get access to important medication when appropriate while ensuring clean athletes a level playing field.’
I’m not a proponent of legalized marijuana for reasons not relevant to this post, however, marijuana use has a long history as a medicinal plant likely dating back more than two millennia (Russo et al., 2007) and is deemed by many to be therapeutic. In 1985, pharmaceutical companies received approval to begin developing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) preparations for therapeutic use.
Not to make excuses, Richardson may suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder from the loss of her mom, compounded by the stress of the competition leading to her use of marijuana. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) falls within the broader trauma- and stressor-related disorders categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). The diagnostic criteria of PTSD include an exposure to a traumatic event (e.g., the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence) and exhibiting psychological distress symptoms that occur because of that exposure (e.g., intrusion symptoms, such as distressing memories; avoidance of stimuli that are associated with the traumatic events. In any event, for now, it is what it is.
What’s the Next Lap in this Run?
Richardson’s competitive results obtained on June 19, 2021, including her Olympic qualifying results at the Team Trials, have been disqualified, and she forfeits any medals, points, and prizes,” the statement reads. “Beyond the one-month sanction, athlete eligibility for the Tokyo Games is determined by the USOPC and/or USA Track & Field eligibility rules.” This cascade of loss is very disappointing.
Richardson indicated, “Right now, I’m just putting all of my time and energy into dealing with what I need to deal with to heal myself,” she said. “If I’m allowed to receive that blessing, then I’m grateful for it. But if not, right now, I’m just going to focus on myself.” Richardson went on to apologize to her fans for not knowing how to “control my emotions or deal with my emotions during (the trials).”
When the Smoke Clears
The interpretation of the Puff the Magic Dragon song may be a story tale, but for Richardson, what she is living through, the “magic dragon” is real. I don’t believe that her experience has or will taint or disprove her greatness as an athlete. She’s accepted it, and this too shall pass. I have no doubt a change will come regarding the drug testing rules governing athletes. Yes, she should have been suspended for the violation, but still, I wish her all the best. She is in my thoughts and prayers. When the smoke clears, and she’s feeling better within herself, she’ll be back even stronger!