By Lucas Lopez
One social issue that is often discussed in many different demographics, either in its relation to the criminal justice system or epidemics that affect many communities in the US, is drugs and its use in society.
Sports often times can be a reflection of society and it very easily applies to drugs as well. The most prevalent issue relating to sports and drugs is the use of performance-enhancing drugs in both professional and collegiate sports. It is an issue that some people argue benefits sports today, but a majority of people support keeping performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, out of sports. Looking at this issue of PEDs in sports and the many aspects surrounding the issue would be helpful to reflect on drugs in society, at large.
The first aspect of PEDs in sports that causes a lot of debate amongst friends, journalists, and sports teams themselves is the punishment that an athlete gets for using certain performance-enhancing drugs. In both collegiate and professional sports, a lot of teams and fans alike question the rulings and punishments of certain athletes and the drugs they use.
In collegiate sports, and in recent memory, there is the instance of Will Grier, former Florida starting quarterback, and his alleged usage of performance-enhancing drugs. As most Florida fans know, Will Grier was put on a year suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs. From the moment this story broke out, there was a resurgence of the drug debate, especially amongst Florida fans.
There were people who came to Grier’s defense, others who immediately agreed with the decision to suspend him, and some even said the ruling didn’t go far enough. The ones who came to his defense stated that he only used over the counter drugs and he shouldn’t have been punished so severely but who simultaneously condemn “serious” PEDs. The ones who supported the decision or argued for further sanctions argue that PEDs ruin the integrity of the sport and set a terrible example for other athletes and the children who look to athletes as role models.
Using the arguments in this debate on his punishment as a reflection of society’s debate on the the punishments for general drug-usage, not just performance-enhancing drugs, it is easy to see the parallels of the debate. There are many who argue that the law should not severely punish minor drug infractions but should severely punish “serious” drug crimes. These same arguments are pushed even further by their point on how severe enforcement on minor drug offenses overwhelmingly hurt minority communities more so than they hurt white communities.
Conversely, there are many within the law and drug enforcement community and the country as a whole who view drugs as something we cannot tolerate as a society and must respond to anyone who uses or sells drugs with serious punishments.
The similarities don’t just stop at the debate over the issue of drugs in sports and in society at large but they are seen also in the current solutions for these drug violations. The NCAA and most university athletic programs severely punish even the slightest of PED violations, as seen with the case of Will Grier.
The current drug law enforcement severely punishes drug crimes, even the ones that many view as minor. The only difference is that there seems to be symbols of change in the drug laws, with many national leaders changing positions on things like marijuana legalization and the Drug War and states beginning to outright legalize marijuana, while sports teams and organizations don’t seem like their zero-tolerance policy and severe punishments are going to change any time soon.
Another drug related issue that sports can reflect society is legalization of marijuana by sports governing organizations and by government/society at large. In recent news, examining the recent events in football involving marijuana provides an example of how sports can be a reflection of society’s recent events and changes with marijuana.
In late October of last year, a group of former NFL players gathered together to advocate for permissible use of marijuana in a way reflects the different pro-legalization of marijuana organizations are gaining attention and support from voters, doctors, and even some state and national leaders. The NFL also hasn’t ruled out completely the use of marijuana for medical purposes. As of June 2015, there were 23 states and DC that have legalized marijuana use in some form. The football governing body is reflective of state governments and voters’ recent acceptance and support of marijuana legalization efforts.
Overall, if one examines drugs in sports, one can see how it reflects in many ways on drugs in society. It can reflect on the debates that are had in sports and about society at large and even on recent changes in marijuana support. Evaluating societal issues through the lens of sports is always interesting and seeing how drug can also be seen under that lens is exciting.