Pot vs. Steroids: Are They the Same in Pro Sports? | Sports Watch
by Gus Jarvis
Jan 23, 2008 | 469 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Recently, many NFL players who have violated the league’s substance policy have done so by smoking marijuana – not exactly what one would call a performance enhancing drug. While over in the MLB, the boys of summer are getting caught with more serious substances – human growth hormones and steroids.

Why the discrepancy? Is it that baseball players want an easy way to get ahead, and football players just need to get stoned after a hard day of practice?

I agree that testing for performance enhancing drugs is needed in all professional sports to maintain the game’s integrity and the general health of athletes. But if the leagues are going to test for recreational drugs, it should cover every employee in the organization, or none at all.

Rarely looked at is both leagues’ reasoning for substance abuse testing. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would have never hired former Senator George Mitchell to investigate the use of steroids in baseball had the likes of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa not crushed coveted baseball homerun records. How long have steroids and growth hormones been used in baseball? Ten, 15 years? Why the big investigation now? Is Selig worried about the health of his players? Or that young fans of these big Big Leaguers will feel pressured to inject steroids?

Probably not.

More likely, Selig is worried about baseball’s popularity and the money it makes.

Selig has been the commissioner of baseball since 1992 and only now is he taking serious action when fans, every day people, are commenting on the abnormal size of McGwire’s chest as he swings for the record-breaking homerun.

Word got around that the game is juiced, especially when Jose Canseco released a book naming players use. The bad PR that led to the Mitchell Report was the breaking point for Selig. Bad PR means diminishing numbers, which then equals a lower bottom line. Only then did Selig act.

“So long as there might be potential cheaters in the game, we have to constantly update what we do to catch them,” Selig said when the results of the Mitchell Report were released last December. “And that’s exactly what I intend to do. We will not rest.”

Cheating and sports equals bad PR. If the bad PR for baseball was not his main reasoning, then why didn’t he put the kibosh on this 10 years ago? We all knew it was happening. How was it he didn’t?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has held that position since August 2006, seems to use drug testing to maintain a clean image for the league. This seems to be a better approach than just calling out cheaters, as Selig has.

Goodell isn’t alarmed with the performance enhancing drugs, although he does test, it’s the recreational drugs that have made the headlines recently. Dolphins running back, and one-time great, has had a career hazed in pot smoke. Just this year, Bronco running back Travis Henry narrowly escaped NFL execution for testing positive for pot. The question for these players, and any American for that matter, is “where is the public line drawn between private and NFL life?”

These guys aren’t enhancing their performance and cheating by smoking pot. I am split with the NFL on this one. On one hand, these players shouldn’t be in the public eye and breaking laws. On the other hand, they do have a private life and the drug testing for recreational drugs has nothing to do with their performance on the field. It just affects the player’s image, team’s image and finally the NFL’s image.

But the NFL’s image is not only projected by the players on the field, but everybody within the organization. Author Tim Mohr sounded off on this idea in the February issue of Playboy Magazine.

“To perpetuate a squeaky-clean image by disciplining players who get into legal trouble is one thing,” Mohr wrote. “But to subject athletes’ private recreational habits to gratuitous scrutiny is another. We are entirely opposed to the testing, but if the NFL brass is so adamant about sanitizing the league’s perceived character, here is a suggestion for the player’s association to peruse this off-season: Demand the solidarity of management and ownership in the testing regime. If Ricky Williams is not permitted to smoke up and take the edge off, a dissolute son of an owner – who acts as a liaison with the commissioner’s officer or draws money as a team official of some sort and should therefore be deemed as indicative of the league’s character as any player – shouldn’t be able to celebrate with a few lines either.”

I agree with this notion fully. When the players are randomly asked to piss in a cup, both Selig, Goodell and their respective office attendants, personal trainers, wives, sons, daughters should be put on this list as well. If the players lose their privacy rights, then those officials who take those rights away should be tested as well. I am certain the results would be interesting.

As I have said in earlier columns, the real loser of professional athletes using both performance enhancing and recreational drugs is the general public and young, high-school athletes who will be subjected to random drug tests. Health is one thing. Loss of privacy is another. Thanks commissioners and athletes for the return of 1984.

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