February 15

Sports, Drugs, and America’s Drug Problem

Posted by William Berry | Filed under Articles | 6 Comments

There have been a lot of sports figures in the news recently as a result of drugs. Most recently, Alex Rodriguez has been accused of steroid use. This was a major story as he appeared to be one of only a handful of “clean” baseball heroes of recent times. Just prior to the Rodriguez scandal was the Phelps scandal. If you are one of the three people in the country that haven’t heard, he had been photographed smoking marijuana from a bong. And drugs and sports grabbing headlines doesn’t stop there, as recent articles on Fox Sports have discussed steroid use among the 70’s Steelers, and the recent arrest of Corie Blount, a former NBA player, who was allegedly caught with 29 pounds of marijuana. There was also the arrest of Jacksonville Jaguar former first round pick Matt Jones for cocaine possession early in last year’s football season.

An interesting article I read on the Phelps scandal was by sometimes controversial sports writer Jason Whitlock. In the article he challenges what some saw as a racial double standard, and even briefly discusses some of the issues with this country’s war on drugs. His article is related to some of the material I use in the course I teach on “The Psychology of Drugs and Drug Abuse.” I show highlights of a documentary called “American Drug War: The Last White Hope.” This film does a good job (although biased at times) of showing the dark side of this war on drugs.

As an example of America’s misperception of the drug problem, were you aware that tobacco kills more people than all other drugs combined, including alcohol? According to Hart, Ksir, and Ray, smoking is responsible for about 440,000 premature deaths per year. In comparison, alcohol is responsible for at least 20,000 accidental deaths per year, and up to 75,000 in this country when you combine accidental deaths (car accidents, boating accidents, falls, etc.) and deaths from the ill affects on the body (cirrhosis, heart disease, etc.). And these numbers far surpass the deaths from illegal drugs (10-20,000 per year). In fact, illegal drugs kill less Americans then the misuse of prescription drugs. (I had difficulty getting accurate data on prescription drug deaths as a result of misuse, but most articles and sources make it clear that prescription drug misuse causes more deaths per year than illegal drugs).

According to the documentary I mentioned earlier, some of the contributors to the war on drugs are the companies from the tobacco and alcohol industries. Additionally, this documentary uses interviews with former government officials to substantiate the claim that the war on drugs has been a colossal failure. Street drugs today are more plentiful, more pure, and cheaper. So what has the war on drugs accomplished? According to statistics, it has resulted in approximately 50% of the incarcerated population being jailed for non-violent drug crimes.

The point is that there are some real misconceptions about the substance abuse problem in this country. Perhaps we are paying attention to the wrong things. Rather than paying attention to cuts in funding for substance abuse rehabilitation, or to the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, we seem much more concerned with our appointed heroes gaining an advantage in a sport they get paid huge amounts of money to play. Or in someone we have chosen to put on a pedestal, (a 23 year old at that) for letting us down by using marijuana at a college party. We are worried about street drugs, including marijuana, when prescription drug abuse is causing far more damage. And we wouldn’t think of making tobacco or alcohol illegal, despite the fact it causes far more health and welfare problems than illegal substances.

Don’t we contribute to the sports worship issue? Don’t we make sports figures heroes and role-models, perhaps even more so than more worthy role-models? Don’t we make sports the business it is today, by buying the jerseys, paying the ticket prices, watching the games on television, and making sports the market that it is? Aren’t we quick to dethrone someone who makes a mistake, as if perfection is the only standard we’ll accept?

I am not pro-drugs. I am not sure if I am pro legalization; I would have to give the issue more thought, and I’m not even sure I’m qualified to voice an opinion. But I am certain we are looking in the wrong directions when we look at drugs in this country. I am hoping it is time for a change: a change which finds all individuals seeking self actualization without the need for a substance; a time where compassion rules, rather than self-righteous indignation. I don’t believe many of us are going to get self actualized or become enlightened watching sports on television. But it is a nice distraction sometimes. How about that Superbowl?

I’m really interested in what my readers find more disturbing: Michael Phelps being a role model and getting caught in a compromising position with marijuana; or Alex Rodriguez likely having used steroids, further tainting baseball’s image, or one of the other issues. Please leave a comment with your opinion.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 15th, 2009 at 12:23 PM and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Sports, Drugs, and America’s Drug Problem”

  1. Chet on February 15th, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    I think Alex Rodriguez is much more disturbing. Sure, America looks at Michael Phelps like a hero. But I would argue that smoking marijuana would only hinder his performance. In a way, you could say he challenges his body more by his actions. Do I think its a good method? Probably not. However, it is known that marijuana will slow you down. I would be willing to bet that he would perform better without the drugs.

    But when you look at cases involving steroids, you are looking at people who are looking for a quick pop; people who want to shine even if it means breaking the rules. I think it shows lack of character. In my opinion, those that may idolize him get the message that you can cheat your way in life and be a great success. While this statement is true, I think its immoral and find it disturbing that after all of the “great” players who have had their names tainted by steroids, players still are trying to gain that extra edge using the same tactics.

  2. William Berry on February 15th, 2009 at 8:08 PM

    Thank you for the comment Chet. I think many agree with you, but hopefully we will see through the posts.

  3. Auston on February 16th, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    While on higher level I agree with you & even take additional initiative by being pro-legalization (for marijuana) but, I have to disagree with this statement:

    “And we wouldn’t think of making tobacco or alcohol illegal, despite the fact it causes far more health and welfare problems than illegal substances.”

    I think the proliferation of crack & cocaine distribution has caused welfare problems which are *almost* irreparable. Gang’s turned violent because of crack, it’s users are highly addicted. There are approximately 2 million cocaine addicts at any given moment – my assumption is that crack addiction levels are significantly higher due to it’s low cost and noninvasive consumption (smoking as opposed to snorting).

    As for athletes – I don’t personally contribute to mainstream sports hype, I like skateboarding, bmx, surfing & motocross. You can’t really cheat at any of the, – steroids won’t help when you when your 500 lb bike falls on you.

  4. William Berry on February 16th, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    I certainly wouldn’t want to minimize the damage done by crack cocaine, and that is not at all my intention. Any addiction causes damage, damage to family relations, damage to society as a whole. But before there was crack, there were gangs fighting over other drugs, whether they were cocaine, heroin, or even alcohol during prohibition. But the numbers demonstrate that as a whole, deaths as a result of tobacco far surpass all illegal substances, with alcohol a distant second. And although there are no drug based gang wars over prescription medication, that is the third most costly in human life.

    Perhaps the real issue is the perception. We seem less concerned about these legal substances than the illegal ones. If cocaine were legal, maybe the gang wars would stop (or move to fighting over a different activity, perhaps human trafficking).

    I appreciate your comment, and certainly share your concern about the damage to society caused by the illicit drug trade.

  5. Kay on February 23rd, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    The way the whole scandal with Alex Rodriguez was revealed seems to be more appalling then Michael Phelps smoking pot. Alex Rodriguez was basically being categorized as one of the best baseball players throughout history, but how can any truth be found behind this when his being a better player then his colleagues was due to the usage of “Steroids”. I believe his using of performing enhancing drugs conflicts with how good of a player one can say Alex actually is. To his defense though I will say that Alex Rodriguez should not be held accountable for his results, since those tests where he tested positive for steroids were voluntarily and were supposed to be kept “confidential”, his accountability should be of coming when all the other 103 subjects that tested positive are named publicly.

    Now as for Michael, I actually feel bad for the kid. But at the same time I do believe he was somewhat careless with his behavior. He is the golden boy of America, and well it’s obvious that if someone caught him doing drugs, then took a picture (that would later get released) the result would be him getting blasted and loosing endorsements because it’s a behavior that would be looked down upon as it would conflict with his “portrayed” image. I’m not against Michael smoking pot because as stated earlier by someone else pot isn’t going to enhance his performance, but I do believe he needs to be more wise as to whom he lets in his circle of closeness while engaging in such behavior.

  6. William Berry on February 23rd, 2009 at 2:06 PM

    Thank you for your comment Kay. It seems most that express an opinion look more negatively upon Alex Rodriguez use of substances than Michael Phelps.
    Again, thank you for participating in the discussion.

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