Pubdate: Fri, 17 May 2002
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 Calgary Herald
Author: Jeff Miller, Calgary Herald
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Our athletes are on drugs.

Read all about it.

Jose Canseco threatens to write a between-the-sheets book about all things 
evil in baseball, particularly steroid use.

Damon Stoudamire pleads not guilty to possessing marijuana, hoping a 
technicality erases the police claim his home furnishings included a pound 
of pot.

The trainer for the New York Giants estimates 75 per cent of last year's 
team used the now-banned ephedra, a substance that can bounce energy levels 
like golf balls hitting concrete.

Drug use is never a good thing to have in the sports pages. Too much 
reality mixed in with the boxscores and horse racing results, too much 
additional bad publicity at a time when, very soon now, Mike Tyson is bound 
to speak again without his Zoloft.

But there's something else to understand about reality, sports and bad 
publicity. And drugs. Our professional leagues, while campaigning against 
all types of abuse, while urging kids to crack books but not crack crack, 
are quietly helping their athletes avoid something worse than using drugs. 
That would be getting caught using drugs.

Management and the various players' unions are working closely to ensure 
images aren't tarnished, even if the protection must be coloured in a shade 
of blatant hypocrisy.

You see, many of these random drug tests are no more random than the 
arrival of your monthly telephone bill. Just this past week, Miami Dolphins 
officials informed their players of a future test, being sure to provide 
ample time for, well, preparation.

This is not meant to suggest anything about any Dolphins player. This only 
is intended to provide a glimpse of how the system works -- or fails -- 
throughout most major sports.

When the NBA reinstated marijuana testing a few years ago, league 
executives sent letters urging players who smoked pot to step forward and 
seek treatment . . . if they feared failing. The league also informed 
players when to expect the tests.

"They let us know about it, so it shouldn't be a problem," said John 
Wallace, then with the NBA's New York Knicks. "It's just a matter of doing 
what you have to do to make sure that when the time comes, you're right."

Do what you have to do? That's all it is? Does this sound like a program 
designed to find drug users or one intended to avoid finding them? The NBA 
only resumed testing after several players admitted that, sure, more than 
half the league was using marijuana, Charles Oakley going so far as to say 
guys often play games high.

"You test a guy," Oakley said, "and he gets high the next day."

Among NFL players, the process has become a training-camp tradition, like a 
rookie being initiated by having to sing his alma mater. During a team's 
introductory meeting, the test dates are announced, typically one day for 
offensive players and another for defensive players. And you thought the 
most important warning in football came with two minutes left? How about 
the one that comes with two weeks to go?

For players with clean records, this test is the only one that checks for 
drugs such as marijuana and cocaine all season. During the year, there are 
random tests -- truly random -- for steroids. The league, however, has 
little concern if a player is getting high. Unless he's busted by police, 
which, you know, isn't good for that whole image thing.

Bad publicity concerns the NFL more than a huddle full of heroin needles. 
So the player who brings the league negative exposure -- when caught Nate 
Newton-like by police, not by the NFL -- subsequently will be tested as 
often as three times a week, punished not necessarily for the use but for 
the attention it brought.

The Dallas Cowboys were more interested in keeping Michael Irvin on the 
field, so nobody learned about his cocaine use until police broke into a 
motel room and found out for themselves, when they discovered him and a 
teammate with strippers.

Add to this the players who never leave home without their magic mixture, a 
concoction that, when consumed, flushes evidence out the system. In NFL 
locker rooms, this aspect of the game is as common as the coin flip, 
players routinely keeping the stuff in their glove compartments or trunks.

At least the NFL and NBA have become more aggressive against steroids and 
other drugs that can increase performance but, ultimately, decrease life. 
But don't even attempt to figure out the drug-testing guidelines in Major 
League Baseball and the National Hockey League, two entities that pretend 
their athletes are clean. Unless a player steps forward and seeks help, the 
policy is there is no policy.

Of course, this is understandable, especially in baseball, a game that has 
been repaired since its last work stoppage mostly by big men hitting big 
home runs. No one wants to take the chance that any of those big men also 
are big phonies, gigantic lies puffed up by something other than the 
lifting of heavy weights.

Our athletes are on drugs, all right. Not exactly a news flash. The stories 
are there each day. A player's name appears in a police report, then 
appears in the newspaper and on the nightly wrap-up shows.

Have to wonder, though, about all the names that don't appear. And how fair 
is that? Even with the innocent, there can be doubt triggered by a dragnet 
carefully designed to apprehend no one.

This is a system that promotes unsavoury conduct, allowing those doing 
dirty deeds to operate freely until further notice. In crime, the concept 
is known as being tipped off. In sports, the concept is known as standard 

But that shouldn't be surprising, either. If it didn't protect the guilty, 
it wouldn't be much of a cover-up.
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