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Marijuana in Sports
Here's the transcript from Show 152 of weekly Outside The Lines - Marijuana in Sports
BOB LEY, HOST- Marijuana is illegal -- and apparently, among today's athletes, popular. A star player, later the MVP stopped with pot in his car. Two Trail Blazers arrested after a game. Mets pitcher shown indulging and accounts of use among his teammates. A joint found in Randy Moss' car after his infamous traffic stop. A constant litany of athletes linked to marijuana.
MALE IN "REEFER MADNESS"- I saw him miss the ball as much as three or four feet. This, I understand, could be attributed to the use of marijuana.
LEY- From the 1930's cult film, "Reefer Madness" to today's reality.
BOBBY VALENTINE, FORMER METS MANAGER- Whoa! That might not be the thing you want to do.
LEY- The drug is part of the sporting culture. This two-time Super Bowl champion smoked it throughout his career.
MARK STEPNOSKI, PLAYED 13 SEASONS IN NFL- It never prevented me from accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.
LEY- His goal now, lessening the penalties for possessing the drug.
STEPNOSKI- It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
LEY- Today on Outside the Lines, marijuana in sports -- how much, how dangerous?
Somewhere between being labeled naive alarmists or irresponsibly blase about a public health danger, there should be room for a rational discussion on marijuana use among athletes. Twelve states have decriminalized the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Over 40 percent of the drug arrests in the United States are for simple possession of pot, and that's eight times the arrests for sale or distribution. Any anecdotal recital of the list of the athletes charged or arrested or otherwise connected with marijuana possession makes it apparent smoking pot among athletes is somewhat common. Exactly how common is debatable and probably unknown.
One athlete is very much known. And as Kelly Neal reports, devoting his energies and his money and using his celebrity to making marijuana less a crime and more a recreational option.
STEPNOSKI- I tried to be very serious about the game. I tried to be a professional and approached it with a workman-like attitude. I think that helped contribute to the longevity of my career.
KELLY NEAL, ESPN CORRESPONDENT- And throughout his 13-year career as one of the NFL's premier centers, Mark Stepnoski smoked pot.
STEPNOSKI- Why do I do it? Because I enjoy its effects. You know, I -- why does anybody use any mind-altering substance, you know, because they like the way it makes them feel.
NEAL- The five-time Pro-Bowler says he easily circumvented the NFL's drug testing policy by not smoking for four weeks before training camp until he passed the league mandated one-time preseason drug test. After that, Stepnoski smoked -- but wouldn't say how often he did it during the season.
STEPNOSKI- One of the nice side effects was that it does help deal with pain. So in that respect, there might even be more advantages to using it simply as a painkiller. But I'm not saying that I solely used it for medicinal purpose. The more I studied the subject, the more I became aware that, you know, alcohol is therapeutically more damaging than marijuana during a season when you're practicing and playing. I would try to abstain from alcohol, especially when it's hot out because it's just too much wear and tear on the body.
But, you know that's not the case for marijuana. So after a game, you know, that's something that, you know, that I might be able to use and then not feel the effects the next day.
NEAL- Do you ever feel as though you could have potentially played better if you didn't smoke pot?
STEPNOSKI- No. That wasn't a concern for me. And I felt that when I did use it, I used it responsibly.
NEAL- What's responsibly?
STEPNOSKI- Not letting it affect my job or my performance. Not using it and then getting behind the wheel. Not using it constantly, not using it before work, obviously. Just the same principles that you would apply to any drug, any substance, really.
NEAL- But would it ever be the night before a game?
STEPNOSKI- No. No. I was serious about my job. You know, I certainly wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize my performance. And that would include, you know, doing everything possible the night before a game to get ready for the game and to play well. And, you know, that didn't include smoking marijuana.
FEMALE NORML MEMBER- Let's welcome Mark Stepnoski.
NEAL- Now, just over a year after retiring, he's giving his first speech as president of the Texas chapter of NORML -- the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. NORML's goal is to remove criminal penalties for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana while advocating responsible use.
STEPNOSKI- Our state government right now is $9.9 billion in debt. Now how are we going to get out of it? I think eliminating almost half a billion dollars' worth of marijuana arrests every year would be a great place to start.
NEAL- Stepnoski joined NORML in 1998 while he was with the Houston Oilers. Rick Day, then president of the Texas chapter of NORML and a football fan was surprised to see Stepnoski's name and $2,000 contribution on a NORML membership form. Day waited until Stepnoski retired before contacting him to ask if he was interested in becoming the president of Texas NORML.
RICK DAY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF TEXAS NORML- I asked him, point out -- what are you going to do with your time now that you're retired. He said I'm going to work full time on this effort. And when he said that, I knew we had a winner.
NEAL- What are you doing with NORML?
STEPNOSKI- Well, in addition to making public appearances in the media, I contribute financially because NORML -- they are a lobbying group. They -- our whole purpose, really, is to change the marijuana laws.
NEAL- Stepnoski's goal is for Texas to join the 12 other states that have decriminalized marijuana possession. Typically, decriminalization means that first-time offenders caught with an ounce or less receive no jail time or criminal record. Instead, the penalty is akin to a traffic ticket. Stepnoski subsidizes lobbying efforts in the Texas state capital. Howard Wooldridge spends four months each year representing NORML's agenda to legislators in Austin. His $20,000 expenses are paid by Stepnoski.
HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE, TEXAS NORMAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR- We consult from time to time on strategies and what we are doing, and I basically keep him informed. He's essentially my boss and my supervisor. So I let him know the progress or lack of it that I'm making. Because of his successful career as a Dallas Cowboy and that star quality, he can open doors that no one else in this movement can in Texas.
DAY- Mark is like a bridge in the issue. He's got the long hair, so the younger people can relate to him. He's got the intelligence that a great all-American, all of the wonderful things he did with the Cowboys -- he defied all of the stereotypes of the typical pot smoker.
WOOLDRIDGE- He breaks another stereotype that athletes on drugs are always going to end up in the gutter, and that also helps to break up that government propaganda that all these marijuana users are bad, shiftless people.
STEPNOSKI- When I give reasons why I think marijuana should be decriminalized, some people say to me, well, what about the children? And that's a legitimate concern.
NEAL- Stepnoski recognizes that his message can be confusing because of his stature as a former athlete.
What would your message be to kids about smoking pot?
STEPNOSKI- My message would be that I'm not a proponent of smoking pot. I would never tell anybody they should try it, just like I should never tell anybody you should think about taking up cigarettes or you might want to consider alcohol. I would never tell that to anybody. I'm a proponent for changes in marijuana law. That's what I would like to see changed.
AL MICHAELS, ABC SPORTS- On the outside. And it is intercepted by Dwight Smith, the nickel back, and he goes in for the touchdown.
NEAL- While most people were focused on the game during last month's Super Bowl, Stepnoski, a two-time Super Bowl champion himself, focused on the anti-marijuana public service announcements that aired during commercial breaks.
FEMALE VOICE ON MARIJUANA PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT- In a roadside study, one in three reckless drivers who were tested for drugs tested positive for marijuana. It's more harmful than we all thought.
NEAL- The next day, he fired off a letter to NORML members, soliciting donations while lamenting that this great American sporting event turned into a venue for government propaganda. And one of the losers in that game was the truth.
Why is this so important to you?
STEPNOSKI- Well, because I, you know, I have used marijuana and it's never prevented me from accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. And I also know several people who have used it or do use it and I don't think they're criminals. You know, I just think they're normal people just like you or me.
Now, remember to always be careful for, as Voltaire said -- it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. Thank you.
LEY- Mark Stepnoski's public advocacy for marijuana has taken a toll on his hometown legacy back in Erie, Pennsylvania. His alma mater, Cathedral Prep, was planning to induct him into the Hall of Fame next month, but now Stepnoski and the school have mutually agreed to withdraw his name from induction at the present time. We welcome this morning, John Lucas. When he played in the NBA he publicly confronted his drug addiction over 20 years ago. He was suspended three times by the league. He has worked fearlessly in the treatment and the counseling of drug addicted athletes, and he joins us this morning for Houston.
Good morning, Luke.
JOHN LUCAS, FORMER CLEVELAND CAVALIERS HEAD COACH- Good morning.
LEY- Marcellus Wiley is a defensive end for the San Diego Chargers. A six-year veteran of the NFL, he played college ball in Columbia in the Ivy League. He joins us this morning from L.A. Good morning, Marcellus.
MARCELLUS WILEY, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS DEFENSIVE END- Good morning, Bob.
LEY- And Rob Dibble, an ESPN baseball analyst who pitched six years as one of baseball's leading relief pitchers. He won a World Series ring. He was a two-time all-star. He spent three years as a union player rep. Good morning, Rob.
ROB DIBBLE, FORMER MLB PITCHER 1988-1995- How are you doing, Bob?
LEY- I am just fine.
Luke, let me begin with you. When you were coaching in the league, this was a topic for your conversation with young players in rookie camps, as you would sit down and talk with them. What were those conversations like?
LUCAS- One of the first questions I asked if guys were on marijuana. And I think that one of the things is that we can't be naive. I think the NBA specifically has drug testing rules as Mark stated earlier in what he said, and then we have a program that they could get into that doesn't include suspension, because of some of the states where the NBA plays does not -- you're in violation of the law. So there were some reasons. But my concern with what Mark was saying was those were nothing but mixed messages. He's saying use it, if you're not, then don't use it, and it's a mixed message. Either you do or you don't.
LEY- The kid tells you in 2003, though Luke, that he's not using dope? Do you believe him?
LUCAS- Well, after looking at him, I've been sober 18 years, so not a lot of that kind of behavior gets beyond me because I have to live it every day, Bob. So dealing with athletes and dealing with their agents and general managers and coaches, you have to be very careful because not a lot of people like for you as a coach to pry to their past and pry into them. But I can pretty much get a good sense. But if a kid tells me the truth, then that's a great beginning because part of any recovery about any addiction is honesty.
LEY- How many have fessed up with you?
LUCAS- Several -- a lot of kids.
LEY- Yes, before -- in rookie camps and whatnot. Marcellus, what do you think of the level of marijuana use among athletes?
WILEY- Well, I think it's different in every sport. I see some of the incidents that happen in the NBA and you see what happens in baseball. But it's not as prevalent in the NFL. You see guys -- we have a longer off-season so you would think there would be a higher risk for guys to get into those kind of things. But around the locker room and just what my eyes have seen in the NFL, it's not that bad. I would say maybe there maybe at high numbers, 10 guys per team. And people may say, oh, that is pretty high. But at the same time, guys take their job seriously, and like John Lucas said, it's a behavior pattern that you fall into once you start doing marijuana, and we just don't see that around the locker room.
LEY- Well, Rob, lets play the numbers game quickly with you and move on from there. What do you think about baseball?
DRIBBLE- Baseball is different, Bob. One team I was on, I would say maybe five out of 25 guys. Another team I was on, maybe 15 out of 25 guys. So every team is different I think, and it is just like society. You have different types of people in society that are susceptible to using drugs, and other guys that are susceptible to drinking a lot of alcohol or doing cocaine. So I think every team is different. And until baseball outlaws it, guys are going to continue to use it.
LEY- What about ...
LEY- Go ahead, Luke.
LUCAS- But, Bob, what people are missing is, the smoking and using of it doesn't take play. There's a lot -- the domestic violence up in sports, traffic violations, just normal behavior. As Marcellus and Rob have both said are going on, which are more prevalent that are happening now in sports and it's related to the marijuana, to the alcohol, to the drug abuse. It's not directly related with play on the court and field. Although it does have some effect there. But more affected is their thinking pattern, their lateness, their tardiness, the way they look, their behavior, who they're running around with and trying to pass people off as accountants, their lawyers, and clearly that's not who they are.
LEY- One player who certainly has admitted to having had a problem with marijuana -- the former Heisman Trophy champion Rashaan Salaam. He washed out of the NFL with a broken leg, but also later admitted that he had a marijuana problem and he talked about the impact on his career.
RASHAAN SALAAM, 1994 HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER- That marijuana makes you lazy. Makes you not want to get up and work out. It makes you not motivated. It doesn't allow you to have positive thoughts.
LEY- That might be the far end of the spectrum, but Marcellus, what about peer attitudes. If 10 guys are smoking, what about the 40 who aren't smoking thinking about them and saying about them?
WILEY- You know what? It's a question of dedication. You're a professional athlete, and when you get on the football field, you're supposed to be in prime condition, and that's mentally, physically, and spiritually. And like Rashaan said, you're emotionally damaged because you're putting a joint to your mouth, I don't see how that's going to have positive effects on the field. I don't see guys chasing around busses trying to get the exhaust in their mouth, so I understand why you are sitting at home trying to smoke on some bud.
DIBBLE- And, Bob, my thing is I'm not going to be a hypocrite. I mean, I drank probably as much as maybe some of these guys smoked grass, and most of it was because number one, to get my mind around the arm pain that I went through for most of my career. And number two, it's hard to deal with the fact that I'm making millions of dollars, why am I making so much money, why am I such a gifted athlete, why am I one of the 25 chosen guys on my team that are so special. So there are a lot of different reasons why you do certain things.
And I'm not going to sit here and say that I wasn't an alcoholic, because maybe on the road, I drank a lot more to forget about being away from my wife and kids, my arm pain, and maybe if I had a bad night on the field. So guys use drugs for different reasons. I don't think anybody was doing it because they thought it was going to make them a better player on the field. But I also don't think that it affected a lot of guys that I knew were using marijuana and even guys that I know were using cocaine. It never affected their play, because if it had, I know personally I would have stepped in to try to stop that because you were taking away from my money and what we were going to do on the field.
LUCAS- You know, Rob, I spoke to a baseball team with young guys coming in, where most baseball teams bring them in for a month or so. And I told them -- I asked the guy -- I said if you knew somebody on your team was doing drugs, marijuana, would you tell them? And most of these guys said no. They wouldn't tell them. I said would you go to the coach and talk to him about it. Part of the problem is that everybody gets linked -- like I'm a recovering alcoholic. I've had this scar for 18 years. It's the best gift ever given, but not a lot of people want the term an addiction, a problem, so what happens is the behavior becomes the problem and we don't understand how to get the athlete out of the behavior. So what do we do in sports? We go get another athlete.
WILEY- And I disagree with the whole premise that, you know, it doesn't affect your performance on the field. Unless there's another Marcellus Wiley, unless there's another Mark Stepnoski out there who can show you in an ideal sense how you would perform without marijuana use, how do you know you wouldn't have had one more touchdown, 10 more yards, or another sack if you didn't use marijuana?
DIBBLE- But I know some guys who were all-star players and some guys that were amazing pitchers, some amazing infielders, outfielders, that were either using marijuana, or probably like myself, that drank heavily. There were a lot of nights I didn't eat dinner. I would go out, drink two six packs of beer because my body hurt so bad that in order to just put my head on the pillow and get a good night's sleep, I had to be almost drunk to do it. So there are a lot of other guys that were going through a lot of physical ailments.
But you know what? The thing about baseball, Marcellus, is you can sleep to 2:00 in the afternoon and you don't play to 7:30 at night. You guys only have 16 games, so you have to be in perfect shape and form to go out and perform. Baseball players, it's a little different. This will be the first time in a long time where they actually test guys for drug, steroids, alcohol abuse, and hopefully ephedrine.
LEY- But not quite, Rob.
DIBBLE- And that's the problem, Bob. Because, you know, they're not testing for the drugs. Because you know what? You're not going to turn yourself in if you're a drug addict. And a lot -- the union and the owners -- they don't want their top players being caught using drugs or being alcoholics or cocaine users. They're not going to turn them in and get the public disdain against the sport. Because you know what, there's way too much money involved in this, and so why would you turn yourself in to the authorities if you know guys are using?
LEY- OK -- We have to step aside for just a second and we will take a look at the testing among the various leagues and also look at the use of the drugs among college athletes. Some rather surprising numbers about which sports have the highest numbers of reported users. We will be back on Outside the Lines.
LEY- An NCAA survey conducted in 2001 found similar results to athletes admitting to marijuana use among hockey, football, baseball and basketball. About a quarter of the athletes surveyed, but among so-called minor sports, usage much higher, highest for water polo. Nearly 50 percent for the sport of rifle.
And we continue now with John Lucas, Marcellus Wiley and Rob Dibble. I mentioned the testing. Let's put up on the screen the graphic to show the four major leagues and what the policies are. No testing for pot in baseball. In the NBA, all players are tested in training camp. Rookies tests three times in a year. Players in the NFL tested once between April and August. No testing in the NHL. All right Luke, so the two leagues that test basically tell you we're about to test. How effective is a testing regiment like this?
LUCAS- Well, I think that earlier what Mark -- the guy who spoke earlier said you have a chance. And for the rookies, you get tested three times during the rookie year, the veteran once during the year and the coaches get tested. So I think we have a good positive. The problem is once there's a test and they have in system -- and we have in place a curve of learning and program they go into to helps the players to really get themselves back. But because of state laws in 12 states -- which obviously have some NBA teams, NFL teams, and baseball teams -- you can't ban the substance or make it illegal and ban because it's only taking a ticket or a misdemeanor in some states.
LEY- Well, Marcellus, what's the message you take at looking at the fact -- here comes the test, and if you want, you stop smoking.
WILEY- Well, I mean, it's a situation where you tell somebody that a car is approaching. I mean, at the same time, how hard is it to get hit by the car. If you see it coming, you can avoid the situation. Guys have already admitted. You saw Mark Stepnoski say, well, four weeks before the test which is coming that I know it. I'm going to avoid taking use. So, I think it's a smoke signal. I think it is something that the NFL and some of the unions are saying, hey, we want everybody to know about, but at the same time, we don't want to bust anyone.
LEY- Rob, I apologize. We are out of time, and I am sure that was an unintended pun, smoke signal, there, Marcellus. Thanks a great deal. John Lucas, Marcellus Wiley, Rob Dibble, thank you so much. We are desperately short of time. Next up we will have your thoughts on Annika Sorenstam, and she's teeing it up against the men in the PGA tour event.
LEY- More now on the charges Iraqi athletes were tortured under the direction of Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, who is the head of the Iraq Olympic Committee. Those accounts were chronicled on this program two months ago in Tom Farrey's report. The International Olympic Committee's ethics commission will formally investigate the charges telling a London human rights group in this confidential letter obtained by ESPN.com that while it will put Uday Hussein on notice, it quote- "Has no means of safeguarding protection" of witnesses who do come forward. Last week, our look at Annika Sorenstam's decision to play against the men on the PGA tour at the Colonial brought a number of viewpoints, as you might imagine, to our e-mail inbox.
"The PGA Tour needs to get a grip on who the sponsors' exemptions can be given to. They should go to someone who is holding or has held a PGA Tour card in the past. Those players have earned that right."
From Richmond, "What's the big deal about a woman playing in a PGA event? Golf is a game based on skill; she is playing against the course, not the other players. Any sport based on skill should be unisex."
And from Fort Lauderdale, "How would women athletes feel about men competing along side them in their arena? I think the reactions would be quite different. We see and hear stories in the media sensationalizing the crossover of female athletes to male sports with acceptance and applause for fear that disagreement would brand one as sexist and discriminatory."
You can check our library of transcripts at ESPN.com -- Keyword OTLWEEKLY. And we look forward to your e-mail and your thoughts on marijuana and sports. Our address, firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks for being in touch.