Sunday while watching the Patriots get drubbed by the Steelers a friend of mine made a comment about how the Patriots could use Ricky Williams, ganja and all. My ten year old son was watching the game with us and so the inevitable questions ensued.
“What is ganja?” “Why did Ricky Williams have it?” “Is that why he isn’t playing football anymore?” (His oldest brother is a huge Miami fan)
This put me in an uncomfortable position, one I hadn’t expected to be in for a couple more years, but I decided since the can had been tipped, might as well spill the beans.
I explained that Ricky Williams had been in violation of the NFL Drug policies, and that he admitted the idea of hanging out in utopia was sitting in a tin shack on an island smoking pot. The questions kept zinging and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. Who would have thought a ten year old could be so wise. He told me he knew what pot was, since he had just graduated D.A.R.E. in his school.
Then he dropped the bomb on me.
“So, daddy, if marijuana is illegal, and he admitted he likes to smoke it, how come they would let him play football? Shouldn’t he be in jail with the other criminals?”
I decided right then and there he was going to law school.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t answer the question. It was just that I couldn’t answer it satisfactorily.
Kids didn’t stop saying the darndest things when Art Linkletter died.
The real answer is one about realities, and I found that hard to swallow as well. Why is it that the guys who we are supposed to hold up as role models, the guys who are supposed to be our heroes, are not only breaking laws but getting away with it? Had Joe Fan walked up to a podium and announced he prefers the ganja to delivering for Brown, he’d have lost his job and quite possibly been jailed. In a country that spends billions jailing people who grow, smoke and distribute marijuana and other drugs, guys like Jamal Lewis, Ricky Williams, Onterrio Smith and others get a slap on the wrist, a vacation from work and lose a paycheck or two.
I couldn’t get myself to tell my son that professional athletes are different, that they are special. I refused to tell him that between his money and that of his team he’d get the best legal assistance money could buy, and that the rules would be bent so they could continue to score touchdowns, or dunk basketballs, or hit home runs.
That would have been paramount to saying our system doesn’t hold professional athletes responsible. I couldn’t tell my son that, now could I?
Tonight Al Michaels said in the broadcast booth that Ricky Williams lawyers were petitioning the NFL to regain active status immediately, and they felt confident their petition would be granted.
For my son, for our children, the message we are sending as a society is that the have’s can have whatever they want, and that the regular Joe gets the table scraps. The rules don’t apply equally in a democratic society.
Professional athletes don’t have to be, won’t be, held accountable for their actions.
The more I thought about it the more it gnawed at me. Today, I asked the Shark Tank to list players who had been busted for smoking pot or some other drug violation. Props to Sport.nut for the link to www.cracksmoker.com, which describes itself as “The most trusted source for sports crime journalism.” I don’t know how trusted they are, but the links, and there are a lot of them, look to be taken directly from news reports. They aren’t all about drug issues, but more a cornucopia of athletes in the news for a variety of issues.
It’s obvious from the excerpts on the site that athletes are equally targets for gold diggers and publicity hounds. However the sheer number of names and stories CrackSmoker lists are enough to make us realize just how pervasive a problem it is.
I won’t go into a long dissertation on this issue, at least not for now. We are all guilty to one extent or another for the way athletes, and celebrities in general, are treated when they cross the line. As I examine the passion for football that burns inside me, as it does in most fans, I can’t help but wonder at the same time what message this kind of preferential treatment sends to my children. Like many parents, I strive to strike a balance between protecting my children from the ills of the world while not completely sheltering them from a world that they will eventually have to face without me.
Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion? One look at my son’s face, with a question on his mind and an innocence not yet tarnished by reality, and I refuse to believe that.
But then I’ve been told I’m stubborn like a rock.
I’d like your opinion Sharks. Do you care? Is it more important for Onterrio Smith to be in the lineup so you can get those 18 points you need for a fantasy win, or is it more important for them to learn the same lessons we try to teach our children? Whatever your opinion, write to me at email@example.com. I won’t mention your name if you don’t want me to…I’d rather have your honest, no-holds barred reactions.