Yesterday, the NFL handed down a one-year suspension to Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (see this Inquisitr article) for violating the league’s drug policy (for the third time, it should be noted). You heard that right: a one-year suspension. For smoking pot.
Let’s be clear about something from the outset: I am in no way defending Josh Gordon. He made his bed, and he will have to lie in it. After all, he’d had two previous offenses, and the punishments get collectively worse for each offense; he knew it was coming. And, he committed to the NFL’s drug policy when he signed his contract.
The problem is, that policy is stupid. It makes the NFL look like prudish church ladies; it arbitrarily and capriciously hands out punishments for victimless “crimes” that are often harsher than those given to players who commit crimes with actual victims; and it turns good players (and good men) into criminals.
The current NFL Substance Policy wasn’t imposed unilaterally by NFL officials – the NFL Players Association (the players’ union) agreed to it as part of their collective bargaining agreement. The text of the policy, which can be found here, reads, in part:
“Substance abuse can lead to on-the-field injuries, to alienation of the fans, to diminished job performance, and to personal hardship. The deaths of several NFL players have demonstrated the potentially tragic consequences of substance abuse. NFL players should not by their conduct suggest that substance abuse is either acceptable or safe.”
As far as crack, cocaine, meth, opiates, and such are concerned, the NFL may have a point. Those drugs are axiomatically dangerous and addicting, although a player who uses those drugs victimizes only himself. But as of this post, the number of marijuana deaths in recorded human history is exactly zero.
It could be that the NFL is so concerned about player safety that it has chosen to police what its players do off-the-field and in private. Or perhaps an organization whose largest sponsors include beer manufacturers doesn’t want to be seen as tolerating a competing product. Most likely, the NFL is simply trying to cultivate an image: the image that its players are all noble sportsmen who represent the best ideals of fair play on the field, and good citizenship off the field.
The National Felons League
Reading through the list of NFL players who have faced discipline for conduct off the field, even if you exclude drug offenses, the list of crimes sounds like a career criminal’s rap sheet: felony assault, animal cruelty, rape, a litany of firearms charges. Then there’s the matter that some NFL players, while in the league’s employ, have committed crimes that will likely result in lengthy prison sentences – like alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez, and convicted murderer Rae Carruth.
Last summer, USA Today studied arrest reports involving NFL players in the months between the Super Bowl, the previous February, and late June, when the report was compiled. In a few short months, no fewer than 31 men – all active NFL players – were arrested. Over six arrests per month, with offenses ranging from DUI to murder.
Clearly, the NFL has a crime problem; a crime problem that it deals with inconsistently at best. While Josh Gordon sits out this season for barely failing a drug test, he can think about the fact that Michael Vick did time in prison, but got only a two-game suspension. Cedric Benson did 20 deays in jail for misdemeanor assault, and only got a 3-game suspension. Ray Rice will be joining Josh Gordon in sitting out the season– two games of the season, that is, for beating his girlfriend into unconsciousness (see this Inquisitr article).
The No-Fun League
Remember Ricky Williams? Like Josh Gordon, Ricky Williams was an above-average player (not Hall of Fame caliber, but better than many), on whom his team’s offense relied heavily. And like Josh Gordon, Ricky Williams loves the pot.
Shortly before the 2004 season, Ricky, like Josh Gordon, failed his third drug test. For the heinous offense of repeatedly smoking a harmless plant, he was facing a yearlong suspension and a $650,000 fine. So what did Ricky do? He told the NFL where they could put their drug policy, and took a year off, presumably to go get really really high. His team, the Dolphins, went 4-12 without him.
Think about that: Ricky could have had an exemplary career, but the NFL was so up in his personal life, when he was harming no one, that he decided he’d rather get high. As comedian Jerry Osell put it: drugs didn’t ruin Ricky Williams’ career, drug testing ruined Ricky Williams’ career.
Where Do We Go From Here
To be fair, the NFL has to walk a fine line. The sport attracts its share of young men who come from backgrounds where crime and violence rule daily life. Then these men are given millions of dollars, adoring fans, and hangers-on who convince them that they can do no wrong; it’s a toxic mix that is bound to result in someone getting into trouble. Trying to respond that trouble, or better yet, to prevent it before it starts, is a noble goal.
The problem is, they’re going about that goal in completely the wrong way. What the NFL needs to do is accept the fact that even the best sportsmen, like their fans, have their vices. When those vices bring harm to other people, they need to be dealt with.
But draconian punishment for behavior that harms no one is not going to help the NFL’s brand; it’s simply going to result in more good players like Josh Gordon missing games when they could be helping their teams.
Do you believe that the NFL’s substance policy is ridiculous? Let us know what you think below.
Image via: ESPN