Where there's smoke...

Discussion in 'Off-topic Zone' started by Lord Sun, May 22, 2004.

  1. Lord Sun

    Lord Sun New Member

    573 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    Where there's smoke

    By Charles Elmore, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, May 23, 2004

    Mark Stepnoski wants to see reefer madness end in the sports world.

    Since retiring, Stepnoski has made little secret of his regular marijuana use during a 13-year NFL career that included two Super Bowl titles and five Pro Bowl appearances with the Dallas Cowboys. He viewed marijuana as an alternative to painkillers and a way to wind down. He knew other players who used it, too, though he says he has "no idea" of what percentage may do so leaguewide. Today he serves on the advisory board of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    He knows that Dolphins running back Ricky Williams is facing a league fine of at least $650,000 for testing positive for a second time. He also knows that the punishment for the personal use of marijuana amounts to as little as a $100 fine in many states.

    "Even though people who smoke marijuana in America are a minority, it's a fairly large minority -- tens of millions of people, " Stepnoski said from his home in Vancouver. "I wonder why athletes should be punished so harshly for doing something that while it's not commonplace, it's not incredibly rare, either."

    Not everyone sees it the same way. The problem is not that the NFL is too harsh, but that pro sports generally need to stop blowing smoke and get tougher on what is, after all, an illegal drug, said William S. Jacobs, an assistant professor at the University of Florida who researches drug abuse.

    "I believe the players in that situation have to be held to a different standard, just as we hold physicians and pilots to a different standard," Jacobs said. "It's not a big safety issue if they're impaired, but athletes are not McDonald's employees, either. Few kids look at a McDonald's employee and say I want to be like him. They certainly look at Ricky Williams and say I want to be like him."

    For years, marijuana use in sports has been treated largely as a joke, with claims of widespread use and denials as hard to pin down as a cloud of smoke.

    Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati of Canada insisted he picked up secondhand smoke at a party before a positive drug test. His gold medal was stripped and reinstated at the Nagano Games six years ago amid confusion about testing agreements. "Next time I'll wear a gas mask," he said.

    In the NBA, "you got guys out there playing high every night," former All-Star Charles Oakley said in 1998. "You got 60 percent of your league on marijuana. What can you do?"

    Tug McGraw, the late relief pitcher, saw humor through all the haze. Asked if he preferred grass over Astroturf, McGraw replied: "I don't know -- I never smoked Astroturf."

    For Williams, there is not so much to laugh about. He is appealing the possible surrender of four game paychecks after The Post reported last week that a second positive marijuana test found him barely over the limit last year.

    Williams declined to discuss the case at last week's off-season training camp but said people "can judge for themselves" about his character: "They just have to look at the way I carry myself, look at the way I play the game, look at the way I practice and what I do in the community."

    Williams' teammate, defensive tackle Larry Chester, has problems with a drug policy whose punishment distinguishes little between the use of marijuana or other illegal substances, like cocaine.

    "They try to set the bar so that no matter what (substance), it's serious,'' he said. "The league says everything is bad.''

    Stepnoski also disagrees with league policy, but he does not give Williams a free pass for failing to follow the rules that are in place.

    "I never flunked a drug test," Stepnoski said. "No marijuana infractions. I'm not one of those people supporting Ricky no matter what. I think you should do what you have to do within the system."

    A player who wants to avoid a positive result can stop using marijuana several weeks before a three-month pre-season testing window. NFL players who come up clean are not tested again until the next year.

    Dolphins safety Sammy Knight said the NFL's strict drug policy forces athletes to adhere to what Jacobs wants -- higher standards.

    "Do they call you on vacation and tell you to meet them somewhere for a drug test?'' Knight said. "Of course the rules are different for athletes.''

    Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League do not routinely test for marijuana. All the leagues allow testing "for cause" -- if, for example, an athlete has been arrested for possession -- or if a player voluntarily comes forward to enter a treatment program.

    Pressure to test

    Under pressure from congressional leaders and drug-policy officials, the NBA began testing for marijuana in 1999. Commissioner David Stern said at the time that cocaine had historically been a bigger problem for the league. "Marijuana is something society has struggled with and, in some jurisdictions, decriminalized," Stern said. "For us, there was the more important issue of the epidemic of crack and cocaine sweeping the country. If, in fact, marijuana is a problem in society, sports has the opportunity to lead rather than to hide."

    The NBA began testing veteran players once a year, and players knew it would be in October, if not the exact day.

    "Yet they would still get 10 or 20 players who would test positive," Jacobs said. "That speaks of a problem with guys who couldn't stop long enough not to get caught."

    NBA spokesman Tim Frank said he could not discuss the number of players annually who test positive. The estimate of 10-15 players is based on media accounts that the league was not confirmed, but it would represent 3-4 percent of NBA players. That is below Oakley's 60 percent estimate, but still a significant number considering players know testing is coming. Officials with the league's players' association declined to speak for the record.

    Heat guard Bimbo Coles believes "about 2 percent'' of the players use marijuana. "I don't see it as a huge problem in the NBA,'' said Coles, a 14-year veteran. "I think if you looked around the percentages are probably no different than they are in society as a whole.''

    Teammate Samaki Walker agrees.

    "I think most guys take their bodies seriously and they take their game seriously and when you have something like marijuana, something that's been proven to do damage to your body, I think guys stay away from it,'' Walker said.

    In the NBA, a first positive test for marijuana requires entering a treatment program, with no fine or suspension. A second test brings a $15,000 fine. Suspensions can follow a third positive test. Sacramento's Chris Webber received a five-game suspension for an unspecified violation of the league's drug policy this spring. Webber was arrested twice on marijuana charges in 1998.

    Teams can take their own action in the case of players who are arrested. Portland guard Damon Stoudamire was detained on marijuana charges after allegedly trying to pass through a Tucson, Ariz., airport metal detector with more than an ounce of the drug wrapped in aluminum foil. The Trail Blazers suspended Stoudamire and fined him $250,000 last year.

    A first positive test in the NFL requires a player to enter a treatment program, which allows up to 10 random tests per month. A second positive test brings a fine equal to four games' pay, which Williams is facing now. A third means an unpaid four-game suspension.

    An NFL spokesman said it is not accurate to say the league puts a "recreational" drug, marijuana, on par with a performance enhancer such as steroids. A first offense for steroids brings an automatic four-game suspension, the spokesman noted, while the first positive test for marijuana involves treatment but no automatic fine or suspension.

    Several famous athletes have been arrested for marijuana possession, from former Bills and Dolphins running back Thurman Thomas to NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    What's the use?

    Why do athletes use, anyway? For the same reasons as other people -- for kicks, or in the hope of relieving pain, stress or depression, said Eric Zehr, vice president of addiction and behavioral services at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery in Peoria.

    "We work with professional athletes, whether it's football, basketball, racing or what have you," he said. "Typically, athletes we have treated have not been by and large any different from executives or anyone else we've treated."

    Alcohol is probably the most common addiction for athletes treated at the institute, followed by narcotic painkillers, and marijuana follows somewhere after those, he said.

    Williams has talked publicly about his social anxiety disorder, for which he has taken prescription medicine. It is not uncommon for athletes to seek stress relief by using marijuana. At the same time, emergency room doctors say they also see cases of panic attacks induced by marijuana, which can bring on a sense of paranoia in some users.

    Medical experts have sometimes disagreed as to how addictive marijuana is, but Zehr said he does consider the drug addictive, both physically and psychologically. Some players may say they only use marijuana off the field or court, but what they may not realize is how long the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, can stay in the body, Zehr said.

    "It gets stored in the fat and released," Zehr said. "It varies by the person and by the amount of body fat, but someone may be under the influence and not even realize it for up to 30 days."

    Studies with pilots have shown impairment on flight simulators 20 hours after marijuana use, even though the subjects believed the effects were completely gone in four hours, Jacobs said. The drug can affect short-term memory, motor control and balance, he said. The act of inhaling smoke carries heart and lung dangers of its own.

    Stepnoski responded, "You can find all kinds of medical evidence that it's less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. To me that's the case in a nutshell."

    The fact that marijuana is illegal is "an arbitrary judgment not based on science or medicine. It's an arbitrary political judgment," Stepnoski said.

    But in view of those like Jacobs, leagues and players should take a tougher stand -- if not for their own players, then for the millions of young fans who watch them.

    "I would like the players' associations to step up and be responsible and assume a leadership role in this country and provide the kinds of role models I would want my kids to be like -- not role models that encourage kids to do things that are illegal and dangerous for their health," Jacobs said.

  2. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison New Member

    408 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    Aside from the old legal or not debate, I am sick of the whole "Role Model" thing. I'm rather sick of no one ever being responsible for their own actions. It's like when I was a kid, if my little brother said a curse word, or did damn near anything, my moother would assume that I had taught him to do whatever it was and I was a bad influence. It was hard enough for me to stay out of trouble myself, now I am responsible for the actions of the entire world because who knows who I might negatively influence. Are we a culture of excuses or what?
  3. twa

    twa Active Member

    1,053 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    Exactly...I smoke [cigars not weed :) ] and drink and try to do it in a responsible manner.If I get cancer or liver problems it is my own fault,Yet most people today wish to blame anyone or thing besides thierself.If someone is looking for a role model there are a lot of better places to look than pro athletes.
  4. MichaelWinicki

    MichaelWinicki "You want some?" Staff Member

    41,312 Messages
    13,899 Likes Received
    I think before anyone posts on this board they should have to smoke one joint first...

    In retrospect I think there are some of us already following that rule. :D
  5. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison New Member

    408 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    I'll take a shot of Old Crow. Don't smoke the weed myself.
  6. big dog cowboy

    big dog cowboy THE BIG DOG Staff Member

    68,047 Messages
    24,602 Likes Received
    During his playing days Mark Stepnoski was always a favorite of mine.

    Now he is an embarrassment. :(
  7. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison New Member

    408 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    Taking a political stand for something he believes in? I am sure embarrassed by someone who believes in individual freedom over government micro-management of everyone's life, my God, that's almost American. We don't want that Americanism around here.
  8. Mash

    Mash Active Member

    4,062 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    I've been a pot smoker for a more then 20 years.....I just like it better then alcohol. But the last thing I want to see is.....legalizing it.

    We have enough problems with Tobacco and Alcohol....and in my opinion they are worse then pot. We don't need another drug where we waste billion of dollars dealing with the health problems they cause.

    I also think that the "role model" thing toward pro athletes....is a bunch of crap. We should be responsiable for our own actions....and parents should stop blaming role models....TV, music.....etc on the reason for their children problems.

    Just my two cents.... :)
  9. Ken

    Ken Well-Known Member

    4,486 Messages
    1,392 Likes Received
    I have never smoked pot, but I do not think it is bad.

    It is difficult to find people nowadays who do not smoke pot. Most of my freinds are pot smokers.

    I certainly agree that Tobacco and Alcohol are worse. Alcohol impairs judgement and slows response time, both very dangerous.

    Smoking is cancer waiting to happen.

    Pot may kill a few brain cells, but I haven't heard of anyone dieing from it.
  10. twa

    twa Active Member

    1,053 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    Smoking and alcohol are not much different in my opinion aside from the legal issue.How ever you are wise to avoid all of them.PS:smoking pot Will give you cancer and effects judgment and response time,unless you are making brownies with it.{its a good source of fiber I hear] :D
  11. big dog cowboy

    big dog cowboy THE BIG DOG Staff Member

    68,047 Messages
    24,602 Likes Received
    Now I know why Stepnowski and Nate Newton were such good buddies!

  12. thevinegarsting

    thevinegarsting New Member

    43 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    i bet Larry Allen "hung out" with them a lot.;)
    I don't consider Stepnoski an embarrassment AT ALL. jmo
  13. ArkCowboy

    ArkCowboy Member

    443 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    prohibition NEVER works
    history tells us so

    and the gateway drug theory is the biggest myth ever generated by the gov't!

    Step is leading the charge towards the inevitable!!
    legalization: not if? when!!
  14. ghst187

    ghst187 Well-Known Member

    7,433 Messages
    1,611 Likes Received
    well why don't we just legalize EVERYTHING that people want to do....?!? even if its horrible for them and everyone around them. Keep people out of cars after they smoke it, keep people from robbing, stealing, and killing to get $$$ to smoke it then we'll talk. I think America has enough legalized vices.

    I agree that more personal responsibility should be accepted by the general public but I also agree that if these athletes are going to be paid exhorbant amounts of money and be treated like gods then the league should impose some stricter standards upon them. Its sad that so many kids look up to famous athletes and many people devote their lives to sports media etc and a good number of the players in the NFL and NBA would end up in jail if they weren't playing pro sports. I think it should start early in the school system too. I'm glad that Clarret and Williams haven't been allowed into the league. I also think there should be stricter academic standards for athletes. We actually do these guys a huge disservice in the long run because most of them coast in school because they're athletes and everyone gives them a free ride, then a small fraction of them end up getting paid to play a sport and the rest of them are SOL.
    I remember an SI cover story years ago about a guy named Booger Smith, "king of streetball in NY." The article talked about how incredibly talented he is/was and how no one could stop him from scoring...etc...etc. The only problem is that Booger couldn't keep his a** out of trouble and had numerous scholarship opportunities but blew them. If I had a dime everytime i've heard or seen a similar story.....a college teammate of mine was well on his way to the NBA when he decided he loved marijuana too much and got into some trouble because of it. Now, instead of a fat NBA contract, he serves a life sentence for killing another guy over $$$ and drugs shortly after he was dismissed from our team. Sad.

    I'm very happy that I used sports to fund my academic endeavors and used them as a springboard rather than a crutch, which is what the current system teeters on encouraging.

    On a lighter note, I think we should impose very strict english standards. Have you heard some of these guys talk? Allen Iverson says "you know" after every third word.
  15. Duane

    Duane Well-Known Member

    6,967 Messages
    152 Likes Received
    I think that Mark is fighting the good fight. It just really irritates me that he lives in Canada but wants to talk about legalizing in the States.
  16. Lord Sun

    Lord Sun New Member

    573 Messages
    0 Likes Received
    But it's legal in Canada, and look at all the harm it's done them!

    Seriously, look at Holland, where just about everything is legal. Compare their crime figures to the USA's. And it's not like there are oh-so-many strung out kids in the Netherlands, either. Education - money for which is currently being spent by American federal authorities on a dubious "enforcement" campaign - helps deal with the problem before it starts. I think that's the best way to deal with recreational drugs, like marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. Educate, educate, educate. Then, let people make up theri own minds. The TRUTH campaign was huge for a while, now I hardly see those dumb-*** orange logos. Conversely, it seems to me that smokers are beginning to crop up everywhere.

    The question lawmakers have to ask themselves, if they are being genuine, rather than ingenious, is whether prohibition is actually in the public interest, or at least whether it's moreso in the public interest than legalisation backed by real education.

Share This Page