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.