It’s hard not to remember the turmoil that unfolded three months after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Michael Phelps covered the tabloids from front to back. It was not about how Phelps was seen as a childhood hero after he casually swam away from any competition that threatened him in the Olympics. It was not about some charitable event that Phelps was hosting with his new found prominence. It stemmed from the infamous picture of Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong.
Flash forward to the 2013 NFL regular season when Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was lighting up opposing cornerbacks at will. What dismantled the so-called savior of Cleveland? You guessed it: He was lighting up too much weed.
Pot is a hot topic in collegiate and professional sports, but just how prevalent is the use of this controlled substance?
We all know there is a portion of the college demographic that smokes a decent amount of weed. The NCAA reports that 22.6 percent of student-athletes smoke weed, while 26.7 percent of college football players smoke weed, the highest percentage among college sports.
As for professional sports, it is hard to estimate how many athletes use marijuana. Michael Vick, Josh Howard, Tim Lincecum, Ricky Williams, Jerome Simpson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Allen Iverson, Randy Moss, Stephon Marbury and Marshawn “Skittles” Lynch — the list of professional athletes documented for a weed incident goes on and on, making it fairly easy to deduce how many pros smoke cannabis.
Weed is one of the most polarizing topics in America. More and more people continue to adopt lax views toward the drug. While Washington and Colorado metaphorically take their reign on cloud nine, sports associations continue to maintain their footing and enforce strict policies against marijuana.
Leagues might maintain stingy regulations against marijuana to safeguard their image, and this totally makes sense. After all, weed is illegal on the federal level, as hard as that might be for Washington and Colorado to fathom.
Leagues such as the NBA and NFL are indeed leagues of integrity (take notes Bill Belichick) that must adhere to whatever Uncle Sam says for fear of being punished. Everyone hates the kid who breaks the rules on the playground, and this is what a sports association would look like without policies against weed.
Instead of focusing on how ridiculous weed regulations of a particular league might be, let’s focus on how ridiculous it is that players are unable to follow these rules. Athletes get paid millions to play the sport they love. No plant is worth jeopardizing that kind of money. Josh Gordon is such a privilege to watch, and it’s such a shame knowing weed initiated his downfall.
If I happened to be a lights-out wide receiver burning defensive backs for a living, would I risk it all by burning a blunt in my free time? You can bet my entire piggy bank I wouldn’t.
Ultimately, stigma still surrounds players who smoke weed, no matter how many states pass laws on recreational or medicinal marijuana. Phelps and Gordon are our two prime cases. Could weed really have dramatically impacted the performance of Phelps in the pool or Gordon on the gridiron? Not at all. Does smoking weed have deeper implications regarding the character of athletes and their ability to play by the rules underlined by their employers? Yes, and it always will.