I don’t write about sports very often so forgive my dalliance today. This is as much about society as it is about the NFL. There’s a football player named Josh Gordon who plays for the Cleveland Browns. Word leaked the end of last week that he had been busted for marijuana in his system and, due to his past history, may be kicked out of the NFL for an entire season.
I’ve been thinking about this all weekend and find the whole situation ridiculous. Why?
- Marijuana is decriminalized at some level (decriminalized, medical use or unrestricted) in 26 states plus Washington, DC. This is more than half the country by number of states and far more than half the country by population. Gordon, who works in Ohio, is in a state where it has been decriminalized.
- In the NFL the reality of head injuries means, likely, that any player could find a doctor who is willing to give him a medical marijuana waver.
- Marijuana is fully legal in two states that have NFL teams, Colorado (Denver Broncos) and Washington (Seattle Seahawks).
We are talking about a bunch of very wealthy young men who have nothing but time on their hands right now. It would be no problem for any of them to hop on an airplane to a legal state, buy some weed and smoke it, then fly home. Weed stays in the system for weeks after ingesting it, far longer than cocaine and other drugs.
This whole thing jumps off the rails for me way too fast. Why is the NFL policing pot use but it never seems players are busted for steroids? It is impossible to believe that many NFL players are not juicing.
Why police marijuana to begin with? What the NFL should care about is one team getting a competitive advantage versus another. Can anyone credibly claim that smoking pot gives players an advantage? If anything it would seem to be the opposite.
Why does the NFL bust players for pot but the NBA and MLB don’t seem to. I can’t think of a case where a basketball or baseball player was busted for pot or any other drug that was not performance enhancing. (Update: I found out after writing this that the NFL does not test for the steroid HGH but does test for pot. That makes no sense at all.)
Why does the NFL think it should be a more important governing body than state and federal government? On last reading I didn’t see the NFL listed in the Constitution as having unalienable rights.
How is the NFL going to handle legality of pot usage in different states? If you play for Denver or Seattle players can smoke but in other states they can’t?
And why is this not being discussed among writers and others as an issue that major sports leagues, including the NFL, needs to deal with?
I know the counter-argument: the NFL has the right to do what it wishes with its own employees, just like any company can choose to drug test and fire employees who violate its policies. But there are at least three huge differences here: 1) the NFL is a monopoly. It’s not like these players have a choice to go play somewhere else that doesn’t have the policy. They can’t shop their skills to the highest bidder. This is more akin to the tech industry deciding for all participating companies that employees caught with pot in their systems will be banned; 2) he is not an employee of the Cleveland Browns nor the NFL. He is an entertainer hired on contract. And right now he is not required to perform; 3) companies fire employees for failed drug tests. The NFL isn’t firing him; it’s putting him on probation for a season.
The NFL (and all sports leagues) is going to have to come to terms with this and soon. For better or worse, it is clear that more states will legalize pot. (There’s too much tax revenue available by doing so.) It’s one thing for a team to punish a player who shows up high to practice or a game; it’s another to punish said player for doing what is legal. In the next few years, many states will start treating marijuana like alcohol. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the NFL to be out in front on this issue?
So you know the person behind the writing, I have mixed feelings about legalizing marijuana and have to admit that if I was czar of Oregon, I’d have the state wait a few years for Washington and Colorado to work out the kinks and discover the problems.
I also have concerns regarding the impact for our under-25 crowd. I’m concerned that that group will find it less of an issue to smoke if it is legal. Those effects , especially for those under 25, are not good.
Personally, I’ve never smoked pot although I have been around plenty of it in my lifetime. My decision to not smoke has nothing to do with its legality, although it might have when I was 16.