Columnists, Sports

Fish and Chipps: Marijuana: The double standard

Before the start of the 2012 football season, Louisiana State University cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was considered one of the best players in college football and a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy. As a sophomore the previous season, Mathieu electrified college football with his wild punt returns, incredible football IQ and his trendy nickname “Honey Badger.”

But just a month before the start of the 2012 season, Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU football team due to multiple failed drug tests. It was later reported that the failed drug tests were a result of testing positive for marijuana. He missed the entire 2012 season, while reportedly “getting his act together.” He was later selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

Mathieu isn’t the only student athlete to have ever smoked marijuana. In fact, according to a 2011 study done by the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, 37 percent of male athletes and 25 percent of female athletes admitted to previously smoking marijuana.

Woah! What?! College athletes smoke weed? You can’t be serious!

Let’s just cut to the chase. America loves its weed. Whether people smoke it, eat it or cultivate it, this country is obsessed with the green stuff. People love pot so much that two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the drug despite the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

You don’t have to travel far or wide to know that marijuana use in college is widespread and glorified. Whether it’s an “I’m Shmacked” video glamorizing college students smoking with paraphernalia, or fraternities making headlines for having marijuana in their houses, it’s not hard to see that pot plays a large part in the college lifestyle.

In college sports, specifically football, marijuana use has been the subject of debate for the better part of the 21st century. In the April 2012 issue of ESPN The Magazine, an in-depth report on the University of Oregon football program published that former and current Duck football players estimate between 40 to 60 percent of their teammates smoked or currently smoke marijuana.

Like most serious issues, the NCAA’s policy regarding marijuana use and testing has been questionable. The NCAA tests for marijuana, although it doesn’t consider it a performance-enhancing drug. In an attempt to crack down on the number of student athletes smoking marijuana, the NCAA began stricter testing for the drug this past year, with the threshold for a positive test being reduced from 15 to five nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Although the NCAA doesn’t consider marijuana a performance-enhancing drug, the punishment for testing positive for the drug (a year-long suspension) is the same as testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. So really, what’s the difference?

Marijuana use in this country is more than just a college issue or a sports issue. It’s a political issue that extends far beyond the reaches of NCAA President Mark Emmert or Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. But the idea that college athletes should be punished for smoking weed as if they were taking steroids is absurd and wrong.

College students are smoking weed at a higher rate now than ever before. In the same study done by Rutgers University, it was reported that 50 percent of male non-athletes and 48 percent of female non-athletes had admitted to previously using marijuana.

There is a double standard in this country. We glorify marijuana use with Hollywood blockbusters and hip-hop artists’ music videos, but we reject and scorn college athletes who test positive for the drug.

This isn’t the NFL and the NCAA isn’t a private company that can do whatever they want. These student athletes don’t have a players’ union to protect their best interests. In fact, they don’t have a voice at all.

Because a positive drug test can lead to such a harsh penalty, schools have swept this issue under the rug by concealing drug records and letting athletes get away with positive drug use. Instead of counseling players on how to properly use the drug or act responsibly around the drug, colleges have completely kept this issue behind close doors. What a shame.

There’s a very high chance that someone reading this column right now just took a toke of the marijuana smoke, and yet there is also a very high chance that that same person would instantly reject their favorite college athlete if he or she was suspended for testing positive for marijuana.

This country is crazy about drugs, but it’s afraid to admit it. It loves marijuana, but it hates athletes who use it.

I don’t understand it, and I don’t support this train of thought. But hey, I guess that’s the American way.

One Comment

  1. Isaac,
    Excellent analysis of the NCAA’s backwards policy, which reflects our country’s wasteful and unproductive stance toward marijuana use. The racial bias cannot be ignored, either, and TM’s suspension is mirrored by the disproportionate number of minorities jailed with lengthy sentences for minor drug offenses. Thanks for highlighting this issue.