Today, Sports Illustrated (on SI.com) breathlessly reported an “epidemic” of marijuana use among student-athletes eligible for the 2010 National Football League draft. Apparently, despite the fact that approximately 40 to 50 percent of high school students in the U.S. use marijuana by the time they graduate, it is somehow shocking that 20-33 percent of college-aged athletes have tried the substance.
Here is how one NFL team personnel executive described the “problem”:
“Marijuana use is almost epidemic, with more guys having tested positive for marijuana at some point in their college background than I can ever remember. It’s almost as if we are having to figure out a new way to evaluate it as part of the character and background report, because it’s so prevalent.”
The real question here is whether the simple use of marijuana by a student-athlete should be considered a “character flaw.” Sure it is illegal. But so is the underage use of alcohol. As is driving over the speed limit. Scouts do not consider someone a “character” risk for these actions.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column on Alternet related to the Ben Roethlisberger situation. I made the point that the NFL’s existing policies steer players toward alcohol instead of marijuana. I believe what I wrote at the end of that column is relevant here:
Sure, players who use marijuana might still get in trouble with local law enforcement. And if they do, they will have to deal with the consequences. But the NFL has no reason to blindly and ignorantly mimic the government’s irrational marijuana policies. At some point even the government will stop the insanity and will allow adults to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. For now, the NFL needs to adopt that policy itself.
We are neither encouraging nor condoning the use of marijuana by students. But let’s get real about this. If people at some point in their life choose to make the rational choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, why should any entity punish them for doing so or consider it some kind of Scarlet “M” on their record?
And to all you professional draft experts out there, maybe you should think twice this year before not drafting someone like Percy Harvin because of something you consider a character flaw.