What are they smoking?

Jordan Hasselbeck, Sports Columnist


Drugs are bad, m’kay. But athletes shouldn’t be suspended from play for using them.

I’m not talking about steroids. I’m talking about drugs that aren’t performance enhancing like marijuana.

In terms of football, it’s in no one’s best interest to have last year’s best running back, Le’Veon Bell, suspended for the first two games of the season for driving under the influence of marijuana. Better yet, the NFL scheduled Bell’s Pittsburgh Steelers to play the New England Patriots — defending Super Bowl champs — whose running back LeGarrette Blount is also suspended for smoking a fatty.

How can the NFL be so against something almost half (49 per cent) of Americans, one former president and the current president, admit to trying, according to Pew Research Center? Marijuana is legal in four states. It’s one of the best ways to treat concussions, according to some doctors, including professor emeritus at Harvard University Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who wrote an open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the subject.

But football, a sport plagued by head injuries and their long-lasting effects, seems unable to consider allowing its players to take a drug that may help them live better lives without removing them from the gridiron.

Marijuana is pretty clearly not performance enhancing. Its main side effects — if you’re unaware — are drowsiness, increased appetite and a tendency to laugh uncontrollably.

When it comes to drug use, the NHL has a far better policy in place. A player arrested for possession of a controlled substance is evaluated by the league’s two doctors and put into a two-week treatment program. A player convicted of drug possession is suspended with pay and put into a drug treatment program for a year or more. If you fail rehab, you are once again suspended with pay.

I don’t believe the players should be suspended at all, but at least the NHL’s policy is focused on rehab rather than just punishing its players.

But that’s not always the case.

Former Los Angeles Kings forward Mike Richards was arrested at the Emerson, Man. border crossing in June for possessing a bottle of pills that was rumoured to be painkillers. Richards has since been charged with possession of a controlled substance.

The Kings terminated Richards’ contract that had five years and $22 million left on it. The NHLPA filed a grievance with the Kings for wrongfully terminating the contract. Richards will appear in court on Sept. 10.

While Richards’ case raises a different problem, the question remains: why suspend players for using illegal drugs if they’re not cheating? If they have an addiction and need help, we should help them – not punish them.

Jordan Haslbeck is a reporter for Bison Sports and a

mediocre beer-league hockey defenseman.

He co-hosts Not Even the Press Box, a weekly radio show

about the Winnipeg Jets at radio. rrc.ca.