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. 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 policymakers and U.S. 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 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. (Read it at http://tbtim.es/weed.) Within the series, we learned that marijuana is the controlled substance of choice for a growing number of college and NFL players. 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. "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 coaches, if 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.
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 TV beer ads and in-stadium beer sales. Nothing like getting fans sloshed on $9 brewskis 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 Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for an entire season because he likes to smoke a little pot?
Welcome to Prohibition, 2015.
Hard to believe that all these years later, Reefer Madness still lives.
— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)