Remember all those public service ads and D.A.R.E. classes that warned about how smoking pot was going to make you lethargic, apathetic, and unable to achieve your dreams? Yeah, sure, this artist, that musician, they may have smoked pot, but smoking pot would destroy any hope of a career in the public or private sector. Well, OK, you have the past few presidents or a handful of tech start-up billionaires, but it’s not like they are openly, actively, currently pulling massive bong rips… (sigh) OK, Michael Phelps, but…
At some point, as two legalized states become four this November and become eight in 2016, society is going to have to accept that people from everyday working class stiffs to multi-millionaire professional athletes can function at a high level even though they occasionally unwind by getting high. Nowhere is that more clear than the controversy over the National Football League’s top wide receiver, Cleveland Browns Pro-Bowler Josh Gordon, who may be banned from playing next season over a positive drug test for marijuana.
Josh Gordon, playing for a Browns team that had 4 wins against 12 losses, had 1,646 yards receiving, the most ever in team history, which was better than the second-best receiver, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, by almost 150 yards. Gordon’s average yards-per-catch was a full yard better than the third-best receiver, Detroit Lions’ superstar Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, whom he topped by over 150 yards, and was the top yards-per-catch among receivers with over 1,000 yards. Gordon became the first receiver in over eight decades of NFL history with two consecutive 200 yard games. All that was with Gordon only playing 14 of the 16 games that season because he was sitting out two games for a previous failed drug test he claims was the result of using a cough syrup containing codeine.
But according to ESPN, he failed another drug test, this time for marijuana, so he faces the possibility of a season-long suspension. Just in time to not be there as a prime target for the Cleveland Browns star quarterback pickup in the NFL Draft, Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner, “Johnny Football” Manziel. Just in time to learn the other good wide receiver, Nate Burleson, has re-broken the arm he broke last season. Hey, Cleveland… are you ready for some… football?
Critics will point out that this isn’t Gordon’s first or even second run-in with the piss police. Gordon was cut at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, after being suspended twice for marijuana use. Gordon then failed a drug test when he transferred to Utah. Despite every indication that Gordon was an unrepentant marijuana consumer, the Cleveland Browns signed him the 2012 Supplemental Draft and signed him on to a four-year $5.3 million contract.
While making $1,325,000 a year sounds like riches to most of us, in NFL-leading-wide-receiver-dollars, it’s chump change, a bargain basement price the Browns got for Gordon’s talent because his marijuana use dropped his stock in the draft. To add insult to injury, the Browns got to keep four of Gordon’s game paychecks for last year’s two-game suspension. That’s right; he had to play for free for two games and made only 75 percent of that year’s pay, or just shy of a million dollars. Of course, the Browns won’t have to pay out the full $1.325 million for this year’s games if he’s suspended. Sure, you don’t get paid if you don’t work, but the problem is Gordon has nowhere else he can work; he’s still under contract. Sure, he made close to a million bucks last year, but he might make zero bucks this year, and quality weed in Cleveland ain’t cheap.
For comparison’s sake, the same year Gordon signed his contract, Calvin Johnson inked an eight-year $132 million contract extension with the Lions, or $16,500,000 a year. But Johnson’s been in the league longer and hasn’t been caught with marijuana metabolites in his piss.
Meanwhile, the sports writers are heaping scorn on Gordon. Gordon made a “boneheaded move” that was “reckless” and “cost his team”, Gordon is a “drug addict” who “threw away his talent” and turned Cleveland’s draft day into “a nightmare”. A common recurring theme is that “he knew it was banned” and he knew that his status in the NFL’s substance abuse program meant a 12-month suspension for his next drug test failure.
However, in the comments sections there are more and more people pointing out the hypocrisy of an NFL that survives on beer advertising continuing to ban marijuana that’s legal where the last two Super Bowl teams play. “It’s not a performance enhancer!” exclaims one comment; another points out the hypocrisy of pot suspensions “while the NFL continues to lack a comprehensive HGH [human growth hormone] testing policy”. Unfortunately, there are still too many replies in the comments toeing the authoritarian “rules are rules” justification.
In the long run, it really doesn’t matter whether Gordon’s use of marijuana is due to addiction, stupidity, willful rebellion, or accident. What matters is whether it is in the players’, fans’, and league’s best interests to be testing for it in the first place. Obviously, having a substance abuse program that monitors and punishes professional adult athletes who smoke pot by threatening them with loss of work and pay isn’t stopping even the ones with arguably the most to lose. But it succeeds in punishing the fans in Cleveland from enjoying the best team they could field, the players on the Browns who might not achieve the success (and extra pay) of the playoffs, and the league that loses a marketable star because he chooses marijuana instead of alcohol to unwind.
Eventually, the NFL will be unable to continue pretending that they test for marijuana use because athletes are some sort of role models for kids as marijuana becomes more legal and expands to more states where its teams reside. The NFL will be unable to withstand the growing evidence of marijuana’s vital role in protecting and even reversing players’ brain damage from concussion, marijuana as a far safer, far lower dependence painkiller than the pharmaceuticals routinely dispensed to players, and marijuana as a more responsible, sensible choice for relaxation for players than drinking alcohol. And as the case of Josh Gordon illustrates, the NFL can’t argue marijuana is detrimental to the quality of its product.