Two UCF football players get suspended for not one, not two, not three, but SIX games next year because they tested positive for marijuana.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is criminal — much more criminal than the decriminalized act of college students smoking a little weed.
Insanely, two promising young UCF football players — sophomore receiver Tristan Payton and redshirt freshman cornerback Nevelle Clark — have been suspended for half of next season because they tested positive for pot during NCAA-mandated drug tests taken in conjunction with the Knights’ Cure Bowl appearance.
“We hold our athletes to the highest standard and they’re going to have consequences if they don’t live up to that standard,” UCF coach Scott Frost told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’re going to do everything we can for those two young men and hopefully they learn the lesson.”
The NCAA, it seems, randomly tests athletes for marijuana at bowl games. Why? I have no idea.
If the NCAA really wants to do some good, why not test athletes for underage drinking, which is also illegal and a much more dangerous issue on college campuses than pot. If underage drinkers were suspended from college football games, coaches wouldn’t have enough players to field a legitimate roster.
Incredibly and idiotically, the penalty for a positive marijuana test is an automatic suspension for half of the football season, which is six games. In 2014, the NCAA at least had the good sense to reduce its punishment from a full season to half a season.
My question: When will they quit testing for marijuana — period — and stop penalizing kids for something that is legal in many states?
I have written about this issue many times — most recently a year-and-half ago when the Sentinel did an award-winning series on the marijuana culture in sports.
Here’s what I wrote then what I continue to believe now:
Headline: Football profits off of alcohol, gambling, but demonizes marijuana
An impassioned Jimbo Fisher put our nation’s sanctimonious marijuana laws and our sports world’s archaic marijuana policies in perfect perspective in front of a roomful of media members a couple of years ago.
The Florida State coach had just announced that one of his star players, cornerback Greg Reid, had been kicked off the team following a traffic arrest in which he was found with a small amount of marijuana in his car. Reid’s dismissal derailed his potential NFL career and stemmed from FSU’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out university policy for testing positive for marijuana.
When I asked Fisher about the double standard involving alcohol and marijuana in sports, he surveyed the dozens of reporters sitting before him and asked the question that cut to the heart of the hypocrisy.
“What if somebody told everybody in this room that you can’t drink another beer or you’re going to get fired?” Fisher asked.
Even though his question was answered with complete silence, his message came in loud and clear: Why do sports policy-makers and American lawmakers suspend athletes and arrest citizens for a substance that is no more harmful than a Bud Light or a Scotch and soda? Sadly, we are in the midst of modern-day prohibition in which we are disgracing and criminalizing decent, hard-working people — doctors, lawyers and football players — and stigmatizing them as “lawbreakers” or “substance abusers.” Home-grown pot is the new millennium’s version of last century’s bathtub gin.
These are just some of the thoughts I had as I read the Orlando Sentinel’s just-completed series on football’s marijuana culture. Within this multi-part series, we learned that marijuana is the controlled substance of choice for a growing number of college and NFL players. In fact, it’s been estimated that 50 to 60 percent of NFL players use marijuana while nearly one-third of college athletes said they have smoked pot at least once in a 12-month period, according to the latest NCAA research.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Sports leagues — college and pro — should stop with their draconian penalties for athletes who use marijuana. Especially in this day and age when marijuana is legal in some form in 23 states and in the nation’s capital. It’s high time for the NFL and college football to adopt the NBA model, which tests players for marijuana, provides them drug-counseling if it’s deemed necessary but doesn’t typically suspend them.
Of course, there is much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among the ultra-conservatives who characterize the proliferation of marijuana in sports as an “epidemic.” Is there anything more laughable than old, white guys getting sauced on vodka martinis and lamenting young, black athletes smoking marijuana?
Then again, the reason marijuana was demonized in this country in the first place is rooted in racism. History tells us that marijuana was originally outlawed in the 1930s because of a racist campaign run by former federal narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger. MSNBC did some research a few years ago and dug up quotes from the anti-marijuana media barrage orchestrated by Anslinger, who said smoking pot made black men “think they’re as good as white men.”
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers,” Anslinger railed before the U.S. Senate back then. “Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others. … Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing. … Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Now, nearly a century later, there is still underlying political pressure for sports leagues to continue this ridiculous ruse of stringently punishing players for marijuana use. Most football coaches, if they were honest, would tell you they’d like to see the NFL and college football be more like the NBA, which accepts the reality that young athletes are going to smoke marijuana and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Obviously, marijuana, like any drug, can lead to more serious issues if abused, but can anybody really argue that alcohol is a much more destructive substance than marijuana?
“We look at alcohol like it’s not a problem,” Fisher said. “Alcohol isn’t illegal, and I understand that, but I’ll tell you what, it causes as many deaths and bad circumstances as any other drug. But alcohol is accepted.”
It’s not just accepted; it’s celebrated and monetized. NFL teams fill their coffers with millions from television beer ads and in-stadium beer sales. Nothing like getting your fans sloshed on $9 brewskis at the game and then putting them in their cars to drive home drunk.
Or what about the NFL being financed by FanDuel and DraftKings, the two daily fantasy football companies that are, in effect, nothing more than online gambling sites?
How is it that the NFL can profit from two vices — drinking and gambling — that are responsible for thousands upon thousands of destroyed lives and wrecked families, but then suspends Cleveland Browns star wide receiver Josh Gordon for an entire season because he likes to smoke a little pot?
Welcome to prohibition in 2017.
Hard to believe that all these years later, Reefer Madness still lives.
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