Up In Smoke

Jamie Chung

In recent weeks, university officials and sportswriters have spent a lot of time arguing that college football doesn’t have a marijuana problem.

This isn’t to say that college athletes aren’t smoking pot and getting arrested for it, because ESPN published two articles this month detailing the widespread use of “grass” by collegiate athletes, it’s to say that nearly everyone involved in the process is attempting to point out that “smokin’ rope” isn’t actually a problem.

It’s presented as “not really a problem” because athletes are merely relieving the stress of national pressure in a way that supposedly doesn’t induce violence, impair judgement, or  inhibit performance in the way that alcohol, a legal and widely abused campus substance, does.

ESPN’s report detailing the widespread use of marijuana on college campuses didn’t spend much time mentioning the University of Oregon in Eugene, because they prepared a second article for the purpose of highlighting a successful program with an apparently relaxed attitude towards the sweet leaf.

While completely stepping over the issues of substance trafficking and the violence that always follows the collection and distribution of black market goods, I’d like to point out that the problem here really isn’t the widespread use of cannabis by college students…

It’s what the pot smoking suggests about the individuals involved.

Human history demonstrates that where personal discipline is no longer expected, it is rarely practiced.  It’s difficult to find a setting where is this more widely illustrated than on the campuses of American colleges and universities… especially amongst segments of the student population who are not interested in receiving an education.

Athletes bent on professional sports, socialites clinging to indulgent experiences, and hard-partying participants in the Greek system were using college as a recreational exercise long before “Animal House” stopped being merely descriptive.

That the focus of the ESPN reports points at the irresponsible and undisciplined behavior of athletes is ironic because athletics only exist in American school systems for the purpose of promoting the character development of the whole person.

Let’s get this straight: athletics have absolutely nothing to do with academics.  The American desire to produce high character and moral fiber in students, combined with the belief that sport produces discipline in the lives of young people is what connects athletics and schooling, not academics.

The financial exploitation of student-athletes in the early 1900’s led to the creation of a governing body called the NCAA.  Since then, intercollegiate sports have been governed by professional academics and athletic departments.  For good or for ill, American colleges have been in the sports entertainment business since 1906.

Most European colleges do not offer scholarships for “athletics”.  On the “Old Continent”, sports are divorced from scholastic enterprises, leaving athletes the ability to play for clubs that pay them, and allowing those who desire knowledge to pay for an education.  An English institution of higher learning doesn’t double as a minor league basketball program in the way that their American counterparts do.

Which begs the question, do major NCAA college campuses demonstrate that, through sports, we are highly successful in instilling the values of discipline and self-control in students who do not posses them before they arrive?

Are the coaches allowed to do something besides win?

Does self-discipline and hard work go hand in hand with marijuana usage?

They call it “smoking dope” for a reason don’t they?

If you don’t believe that marijuana comes at a cost for athletes, ask yourself why so many college football stars go on to be professional football failures.  Is it because they didn’t have the talent, the intelligence, or experience?

Often it comes down to the lack of DRIVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE it takes to grow beyond the levels of success that they’ve achieved on natural ability alone.  Consider the heartbreaking words of Former Heisman Trophy winner, and former first round draft pick Rashaan Salaam:

“Going to the pros at 20 years old and not being disciplined … it showed itself.”

Salaam admitted years ago that partying and marijuana contributed to his downfall as a player.

“I had all the talent in the world,”.  “You know, great body, great genes, but I had no work ethic and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got.”

Of course a great athlete can have a great athletic career after smoking marijuana through college.  This is why I’m not saying that marijuana is the problem.  Widespread marijuana use is merely the thermometer telling us how sick the patients are.

We can point out that “a lot of people are sick” or that “they aren’t as sick as they could be”, but the truth is that a “successful career” in professional sports is only a fraction of the life that will be lived by only a minority of the athletes who enroll in college and fail to learn the self-discipline that sports are purported to teach.

Do college sports have a pot problem, or do humans have a self-discipline problem?

Maybe weed is just rubbing our face in it.

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