The US Department of Education states: “Athletes are at risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs (AOD), including steroids, diet aids, ephedrine, marijuana, and psychedelic drugs.” To a person who has never played organized sports in a highly competitive environment, the statement above may seem counterintuitive. Athletes that are playing for money, (earning scholarships/paychecks) are risking their livelihood’s by messing around with drugs.
To name a few in the past couple weeks: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU defensive back was kicked off the team for once again violating team rules (*cough* failed drug-test). In the Olympics, American judo fighter Nick Delpopolo was kicked out of the games for screening positive for THC in a drug test. For NASCAR fans, there’s A.J. Allmendinger. Last week a world-class driver, this week a ‘user of amphetimines’ who was just released from his team, Penske Racing. Although he claims he unknowingly consumed THC in an edible, Delpopolo is going to lose sponsorship money. Tyrann Mathieu will likely lose draft position, a scholarship, and a chance to play for an SEC contender.
Drugs can wreck havoc on an athlete’s career, and it is not only recreational drugs that can do so; performance enhancers can as well. Barry Bonds was blacklisted from the MLB, and will never be voted into the Hall of Fame.
With so much to lose, the question becomes why.
Why are athletes prone to drug abuse?
Monotony- Hours of practice, films, and games can get boring. Joints or a pill after practice for some athletes can be the perfect way to let the mind go and relieve physical or mental stress. There is the case of Doc Ellis, where he threw a no-hitter on LSD in June 1970. Elilis’ main reason for dropping acid? He wasn’t pitching the next day, or so he thought.
Performance enhancement (street drugs)- We aren’t only talking about actual performance enhancers here (‘roids, HGH), we are talking about the college athlete who pops an Adderol once a week and catches up on the work he/she missed, or the guy who smokes a blunt 45 min before the game because it ‘makes me play better’. One of my favorite cases is Chris Herren, former Fresno State star and NBA player for the Nuggets and Celtics. Ten years ago, even strung out, Herren would have stellar performances. In the ESPN documentary Unguarded, Herren describes standing outside of the Boston Garden 5 minutes before tip-off in a game he is starting. It is raining outside and he is wearing his Celtics sweats, waiting to meet with his Oxycontin dealer. Herren got his fix, played well that game, won, and was on the cover of the Boston Globe the next morning.
Another case in this section is Ricky Williams. Some may say he needed to get clean and abide by the NFL’s policies since he was such a talent. Others may say he should have been left alone, and the NFL made it a point to try and catch him for something as minor as marijuana. Whether it is right or wrong, drug use did derail the career’s of both of the above athletes.
Performance enhancement (performance drugs)- All through your childhood and teenage years you train 30-40-50 hours a week at your sport only to hit a wall. You find yourself almost world class, but you can’t creep into that 99th or 100th percentile in size or skill. Jonathan Vaugthers, a former pro cyclist and chief executive of Slipstrem Sports, supports a 1-2% theory. Many have made it so far only to fall short, but that can all go away with doping. Another theory is the ‘level-playing field’. An athlete knows (or thinks he/she knows) the rest of the competition is doing it, so they have to do it as well.
Low consequences- Athletes that perform well are easily forgiven. That is just fact. Herren (who got 10+ chances), Hamilton, Phelps, Roethlisberger; the list can go on and on. Athletes that know they can ball may just not give a crap when it comes to off the field issues such as drugs. They also have the money and the connections to basically do whatever they want compared to the average person.
According to some, drugs in sports aren’t a problem in certain cases. In a recent nytimes.com debate on Should Doping Be Allowed, it is suggested if a drug doesn’t pose significant health risk, then it should not be banned. Another argues that drugs in sports are okay because of the tedious schedules and workouts that pro athletes face. There are also 3 columnists whom strictly support clean competition.
For fans that can’t stand drug use in their sport, I would suggest pressing for two fundamental changes: less public forgiveness for drug-related incidents and increased testing. For fans that enjoy it, I’d suggest stressing to others proper usage of drugs taken as prescribed by a doctor (medical marijuana, TRT, etc.) should be okay in sports.