Pubdate: Thu, 08 Nov 2012
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Christine Brennan


The U.S. Olympic Committee found itself Wednesday morning at the
center of the new national conversation created by the statewide votes
in Colorado and Washington to legalize the use of marijuana. The USOC
is headquartered in Colorado Springs. It oversees the playing of
dozens of sports by hundreds of far-flung young athletes, all of whom
have the added responsibility of representing not only themselves but
their nation. The organization also is in the business of making sure
they compete fairly and cleanly, which is why all kinds of illegal
drugs, performance-enhancing and otherwise, are banned.

So what's a national Olympic committee to do when faced with a
ground-breaking, definitely challenging and perhaps even somewhat
humorous new law in the state where it is located?


"Nothing is changing," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said over the
phone Wednesday afternoon. "Marijuana is currently a substance that is
banned in competition and will continue to be so. Also, we're talking
about world-class athletes who are looking to succeed and are focused
on doing the best thing for their training, and there's no reason to
believe that's going to change based on any specific law. So nothing
changes for us."

The USOC was joined Wednesday by a cacophony of prominent, intelligent
voices around the sports world, all of them singing almost exactly the
same tune. "Marijuana remains prohibited," said the NFL. The NBA's
statement was nearly identical. The NCAA's too, although it explained
that its drug policies are not tied specifically to the law, but to
"student-athlete health and safety or the integrity of the game."

Legally, historically and culturally, Tuesday's decision by voters in
Colorado and Washington appears to be a pretty big deal, a harbinger,
perhaps, of an increasing national leniency toward marijuana. But that
attitude does not extend to the playing field, nor should it.

Tuesday's election posed a basic question, similar to the one that 
resulted from the downfall of Lance Armstrong: Do we want clean sport, 
or do we not? Is it important for athletes who represent our cities and 
country and become role models for our kids to compete with integrity 
and without drugs, or is it not?

Since hundreds of sports organizations and thousands of athletes
around the world have answered in the affirmative for more than a
generation, there can be no place in athletics for marijuana. It's as
simple as that.

"People who are laughing about marijuana believe it's purely a
recreational drug," international doping expert Gary Wadler said in a
phone interview. "No one is suggesting it's a steroid or growth
hormone, but it can have an effect on performance by decreasing
anxiety. You may dive into a pool with more abandon, if you will, if
you're on marijuana because it takes away that fear factor."

Even though U.S. federal law says that marijuana is still illegal in
all 50 states, there are sure to be challenges ahead as athletes test
the boundaries of state law. The moment the law passed Tuesday night,
for example, Twitter was abuzz with jokes that all NBA players were
now hoping to be traded to the Denver Nuggets.

We can laugh all we want, but USA Swimming, also headquartered in
Colorado Springs, showed exactly what any sports organization should
do if one of its athletes is caught smoking pot: suspend him or her.

This isn't a hypothetical situation. In February 2009, a photograph
surfaced of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana at a party at the
University of South Carolina just three months after he won his eight
gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Once Phelps confirmed
that the photo was real, USA Swimming kicked him out of the sport for
three months.

Phelps didn't fight the suspension. "I engaged in behavior which was
regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," he said. "For this, I am
sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."

State law, past, present or future, wouldn't have mattered one bit.
This was a case of a sport policing itself, which is exactly as it
should be no matter what the voters decide.
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