Pot and Basketball



As the second round of the NBA Playoffs continue, I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss Mitch McGary’s announcement that he would be leaving the University of Michigan to enter the NBA Draft.  After sitting out most of the season with a back injury, the sophomore quickly dispelled speculation by announcing that he was leaving for the pros rather than serve an NCAA suspension for having failed a random drug test that revealed he had smoked pot while sitting out the season (Read Dan Wetzel’s report Yahoo Sports).  Now I guess we can give him credit. He didn’t hide and he said the right things.  And if he’s been truthful, he’s just another kid – although he’s a kid who has the potential to have a lucrative pro career that many of us could never experience – who made a one time bad decision. Today we’ll consider the reaction to the news, but also take a closer look at society’s rationalization of behaviors like smoking pot.

BASKETBALL – The same old pot!



The influence of marijuana on the culture of basketball has been around since I was a teenager in the 70’s.  It wasn’t always publicized like it is today, but it certainly was prevalent.  And by the time that the 90’s rolled around, the NBA had an image crisis on its hands, as outlined in New York Times Special Reportand hammered out an agreement with its players’ association to begin formal drug-testing.  With society’s attitude toward pot bouncing back and forth like a crossover dribble, it often gets lost in the shuffle until your team has a player suspended.  This year, Larry Sanders of the Bucks, former Trail Blazers guard Terrell Harris, Knicks guard J. R. Smith, and the 76ers big man Arnett Moultrie all received five-game suspensions for marijuana use.

The NCAA has been even more stringent to address the use of pot and McGary’s case is just one example of a multitude of suspensions throughout all levels of NCAA basketball.  Like alcohol before it, society’s acceptance is changing how we view offenders.  Yet as it stands now, and despite the fact that two states have legalized its use, smoking pot is illegal and there are penalties for marijuana use at all levels of basketball.  So, what’s a coach to do?  Just go with the flow?  Turn his eye and keep his mouth closed? According to Seth Davis, John Wooden may have done that!  As long as players aren’t arrested or having troubles in class or allowing their performance to drop, many coaches choose to leave it alone.  Is that the best policy?  I can only go on my experience.  I’ve seen more than enough depressed,self-absorbed, and irritable players using pot to know that it doesn’t fit in basketball.  Plenty of users will rationalize their freedom to find relaxation, nurse aches and pains, deal with the stress of life, and fit in with their peers, but all of those can be dealt with in more healthy and lawful means!

LIFE – Confusing Messages

I can see where so many of us, especially young people, get so confused by what’s acceptable behavior.  You can read helpful discussions like Marijuana Is Harmful: Debunking 7 Myths Arguing It’s Fine from the Heritage Foundation, but then find  pro athletes and celebrities in your face touting the benefits of a street drug that many claim to be less harmful to society than alcohol (not that alcohol abuse should be the standard).  Just read the comments after that article and you’ll get a taste of the debate that rages on.  The bottom line is that there are many things in this world that are legal or acceptable that aren’t good for you.  To me what’s most important, is that many of us – including elite basketball players – are afraid to consider the motivation behind our behavior.  If fitting in with peers, or dealing with failure and stress, or needing some feeling of altered consciousness is so necessary, wouldn’t it be more important to deal with the issues behind those impulses?  I know that as a young person learning how to deal with problems and mastering my focus and effort, an inspirational coach and accountable teammates would have made a huge impact on me!  Sounds like a better plan, doesn’t it?

FAITH – Clarity?

If you’re searching for clarity in the Bible you may not find it.  Pot smokers will point to God’s gift of every seed-bearing plant (Genesis 1:29) as a signal to light up, while others will claim that the Bible only talks about alcohol.  That’s what you’ll find if you’re only looking at the Bible as a book of rules.  In truth, the Bible, especially the book of Proverbs, speaks not only of sin, but also of folly – the opposite of wisdom.  Fools do foolish things that are contrary to common sense and to the wisdom handed down from our Creator, a Creator who also gives us the opportunity to make wise decisions as Paul so plainly stated:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

So while smoking pot may not be a clear sin, it’s important to consider whether it’s helpful to one’s self and one’s relationship with God and others.  A wise man will consider the effects of smoking pot, drinking beer, or eating too much pizza not simply to consider if it’s legal, but to weigh the risks and to consider his motivation.  Scripture, though, is clear: true relief from the problems of this world are not found in a short-lived high, they come from walking in step with the One who truly loves you and understands every issue in our lives.

I found helpful and thought-provoking discussions from a favorite source in Relevant Magazine.