Pat Benson: 420 In Pro Sports

Saturday, April 20, 2019 - by Pat Benson
Pat Benson
Pat Benson

Today is the unofficial marijuana holiday known as 4/20. People all over the country will flock to public spaces to light up, or as most of the NBA calls it “Saturday”. Over the past twenty-five years there has been a major cultural shift on the issue of cannabis.

Since 1995, 33 states have legalized medicinal and/or recreational use. Despite the easing of criminal laws, the plant remains illegal under federal law. Last year more than 600,000 people were arrested for possession (the vast majority being young men of color).

As always, culture and politics have a way of spilling over into professional sports. Fields and courts have become arenas for debate and discourse in our country. Whether we recognize it or not, we’re often looking at a mirror image of what America looks like at that moment. (Think Jackie Robison, Wilma Rudolph, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, Colin Kaepernick).

So for a quick history lesson, leagues did not start policing marijuana and handing out punishments until the 80’s and 90’s. Baseball and football have inherently had to focus their efforts on performance enhancing drugs, while basketball worked to clean up a league with a scary hard-drug problem in the 70’s and 80’s. Somewhere along the line both the NFL and NBA earned reputations for having smoky locker rooms.

Speaking of that earned reputation, you could easily form a hall of fame team with retired NBA players who have either admitted or been linked to marijuana. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Robert Parish, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups just to name a few. (Fill out the bench with Coaches Phil Jackson and Don Nelson and you have a solid squad).

Former NFL players’ Ricky Williams, Randy Moss, Michael Vick, and Warren Sapp have all faced trouble due to smoke over the years. Currently Josh Gordon and Randy Gregory are serving suspensions for allegedly testing positive for banned substances (not PEDS).

When it comes to enforcing rules, MLB does not test their players annually. The NFL only has one mandatory test each offseason (coincidentally the period begins on 4/20), and the NBA tests six times a year. If players of any three major leagues test positive, the leagues punishments range from rehab programs to suspensions.

It’s rare that commissioners, owners, and unions agree on anything but there seems to be growing consensus that efforts at curbing marijuana use should be focused on addiction and rehabilitation rather than punitive measures. The NFL and NBA take it a step further as both league offices have suggested that they are ready to explore the science of using cannabis as a pain management tool for players rather than prescription opioids.

Prominent coaches from both leagues are in on the new wave. Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll has opined with the idea of players using cannabis over opioids. Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr has admitted to trying it recently after failed back surgery.

In 2018, Bleacher Report conducted lengthy and candid interviews with former professional athletes. Retired NBA and NFL players estimated that 80-90% of both leagues smoke on a regular basis. That’s far from a scientific survey, but you get the drift.

As an outsider looking in, if I had to sum up marijuana in professional sports right now I would use the word “ubiquitous”. So what will the future look like? Obviously the tipping point will be if and when the federal government legalizes and regulates the cannabis industry.

If the country continues at the same pace in the same direction over the next quarter-century, sports culture could seriously be impacted by the new laws. Players could be prescribed CBD’s, cannabis tycoons could own sports franchises, probably even corporate sponsorships similar to the relationships the leagues have with alcohol companies.

Who knows what the future holds. Maybe by 2044 “E-Sports” will garner Super Bowl numbers, and professional video gamers will chased around by paparazzi. Maybe President Miley Cyrus will be more focused on her foreign policy rather than domestic issues. Either way, America is moving forward on the issue and our professional sports leagues are clear examples of the changing times.

--

Pat Benson is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has been a sideline reporter, P.A. announcer, and radio personality. Tweet him @Pat_Benson_Jr. 


SPRING FLING SCHEDULE

SPRING FLING: Local Qualifiers 2019

Eric Parker, David Dorsey Lead Cleveland To 3rd In D-I Large Track And Field Championship


Spring Fling Schedule TRACK & FIELD UNIFIED SCHEDULE IS HERE . FRIDAY, MAY 24 Baseball Class 3A Championship 5:00 pm: Bradley Central vs. Farragut ... (click for more)

SPRING FLING 2019 Local Qualifiers up to date as of: 5/19/12:00 pm Congratulations to all the teams and individuals who have qualified for the 2019 TSSAA spring sports championships. ... (click for more)

Murfreesboro — Redemption for past failures is something that everyone hopes they have the opportunity to find. That opportunity doesn't always present itself, so when it does it requires courage ... (click for more)


Sports

SPRING FLING SCHEDULE

Spring Fling Schedule TRACK & FIELD UNIFIED SCHEDULE IS HERE . FRIDAY, MAY 24 Baseball Class 3A Championship 5:00 pm: Bradley Central vs. Farragut (MTSU) Softball DII-A Championship 11:30 am: CCS vs. TKA (Starplex 3) (Email Dennis Norwood at dennisnorwood56@gmail.com; Follow him on Twitter at @DennisENorwood) (click for more)

SPRING FLING: Local Qualifiers 2019

SPRING FLING 2019 Local Qualifiers up to date as of: 5/19/12:00 pm Congratulations to all the teams and individuals who have qualified for the 2019 TSSAA spring sports championships. All events will be held in Murfreesboro the week of May 22-24. BASEBALL Class 3A Bradley Central Class DII-AA Baylor Class 2A Sequatchie County SOFTBALL DII-A ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Statewide Amber Alert Canceled After Resident Spots Missing 23-Month-Old Girl, Captor In Hixson

A statewide AMBER Alert was canceled after a missing 23-month-old girl in Chattanooga was found early Friday morning. Authorities said Octavia Shaw is safe and her captor, 37-year-old Matias Martinez, is in custody. He was to be charged with especially aggravated kidnapping. He is considered an acquaintance with no parental or custodial rights to Octavia. A resident spotted ... (click for more)

East Ridge Pulls From Rainy Day Fund To Meet No-Tax-Increase Budget

East Ridge will dip into its rainy day fund to be able to make a no-tax-increase budget. A presentation of the city’s 2019-2020 budget was made at the East Ridge City Council on Thursday night. City Manager Chris Dorsey thanked Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer and Financial Director Diane Qualls for their contributions to this budget, saying that it had been very far along ... (click for more)

Opinion

It Is Outrageous That County School Administration Used Our Tax Dollars For Political Lobbying

Dear Dr. Johnson, The campaign central at HCDE headquarters needs a Tennessee Little Hatch Act study time and education. The heart of the issue is that HCDE utilized our tax dollars to lobby against vouchers with employee time, equipment, and lobby payments. Here is my point, I supported ESA vouchers for Hamilton County, and so did a lot of families that desired parental ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: What All Have In Common

A couple of weeks ago I was in the midst of a wonderful crowd and, as we took our places for dinner, there was a bright-eyed fifth-grader seated on my right. Like most his age, he didn’t say much at first but with a nudge or two, he really got it going. He told me how excited he was about going to McCallie this fall and I promised, “Get ready – you are going to have more fun that ... (click for more)