Randy Moss's Interview? No Big Deal
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 23, 2005

THE FUROR over Randy Moss’s admission that he has smoked marijuana in the past caught me by surprise. Don’t people realize that many athletes – as well as others of their age – smoke marijuana? Apparently not. There’s even a website giving odds on whether Moss will test positive, whether he’ll be suspended, etc. For the record, Moss’s agent has claimed that Randy passed an NFL drug test recently.

I have no first-hand knowledge of the effects of marijuana; I’ve never smoked it. Though I lived through the ‘60s, I never experimented with the drugs of that era, either. My drug of choice has been alcohol, and for the past 20 years, almost exclusively wine.

There are many who claim medicinal value for marijuana. Wine also has some properties which can be beneficial to the health of drinkers, according to various studies. Those studies occasionally have shown some health benefits for those who drink hard liquor moderately, but those benefits hardly measure up to the serious effects of excessive drinking.

That kind of excessive drinking has been the cause of many shortened athletic careers, and sometimes, early death, expecially for baseball players. Yet, that alcohol abuse has spawned humorous stories, while use of any other kind of drug has been sharply criticized by media and fans.

When I was growing up, there was nothing written about alcohol problems – except these humorous stories. Paul Waner once joked about being so drunk he saw three baseballs – and swung at the one in the middle. Babe Ruth’s carousing was part of his image, but writers of his era gave no details. Legendary manager Joe McCarthy often had to check in for brief stays in re-hab centers because of his alcoholism; news releases, which were not challenged by the media, talked of McCarthy being ill.

As late as the ‘60s, Mickey Mantle was drinking so heavily that he showed up for day games still under the influence. Mantle was such a great talent that he was a great player even then, but the hard drinking took its toll in late career -–his career statistics, good as they are, would undoubtedly have been much better if he’d been just a moderate drinker – and they caused him to die at a relatively early age.

Even in Mantle’s time, writers seldom wrote about the excessive drinking. Earlier, they never even mentioned it. One example: Jimmie Foxx, who first played in the major leagues before his 18th birthday, was like Mantle, a great talent who squandered much of that because of his excessive drinking. Foxx was through as a front-line player before his 34th birthday. But fans of that time could only guess at the reason because writers never wrote of Foxx’s alcoholism.

Yet, when athletes started turning to cocaine, writers pounced on them, calling them “druggies,” though alcoholism and cocaine addiction are similar problems.

Why? Probably because writers could sympathize with hard drinkers because many of them hit the bottle pretty hard, especially if it were free liquor in the team’s press room after a game. (I speak from personal knowledge here; liquor flowed very freely in the Giants press room during the Horace Stoneham years.) These same writers had no experience with cocaine, which is too expensive for writers, even on an experimental basis.

THERE IS another reason for the difference in the writers’ approach: Alcohol is legal, cocaine and marijuana are not. That is why the NFL’s drug program includes marijuana as a banned substance.

It’s all part of the nonsensical approach of the U. S. government’s drug policy – a policy which has basically remained the same under Republican and Democratic administrations. Alcohol is legal and regulated; cocaine, marijuana and everything labeled as a “recreational drug” are not.

You’d think this country would have learned from Prohibition, which did nothing to stop drinking while creating a new criminal class. The current drug program has made rich men of South American drug dealers, while cocaine use has gotten much worse, especially among the minority population, in the United States.

If these drugs were legalized, they could be regulated as alcohol is, and the government could collect taxes on them. Seems to me that would be better than the current system, but the moralists in our society would scream and holler if the government tried to do that.

So, we have to deal with what we have, but we should at least cut the athletes a break on this.

There are two problems in an athlete’s life: Pressure and boredom. The pressure is obvious, because so many people are watching them, either in person or on television, and everything they do is recorded, visually and in print. They drink, smoke marijuana or snort cocaine to relieve that pressure.

The boredom is less obvious. In the past, I’ve talked to Delvin Williams, a former star running back who fell into the cocaine habit after he was traded to the Miami Dolphins; Williams was able to kick the habit and started a program to help children. He started snorting cocaine in his hotel room because he couldn’t deal with the sharp contrast between the excitement of game day and the boredom of the rest of the week.

That doesn’t make athletes who do drugs bad guys. Williams is a class act, a man who pulled his life together and started helping others. So is John Lucas. I once saw Lucas wandering through the parking lot in a drug-induced stage when he was supposed to be playing in a Warriors game. But Lucas, like Williams, pulled himself together and became a productive human being again.

I DON’T KNOW Randy Moss, beyond group interviews which don’t reveal much, but if smoking marijuana is the worst thing he does in his life, he’s way ahead of many of us.

And, Moss is with a team that won’t worry about what he says. The Raiders have always said that what the players do on the field is what’s most important to them. Only if Moss is suspended because of repeated failures of a drug test would his behavior be a problem for them. Otherwise, they’ll simply ignore what he says in a TV interview about smoking marijuana.

I’d suggest that the rest of us should do the same.

NOTE: Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the Cal Bears and how good they can be this season.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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