Sports have become progressively anti-drug since the ’60s, and it’s a trend that’s been embraced by sports fans the world over. From steroid-laden baseball players to doped up footballers, drugged players change the feel of any game. Despite this, many players are beginning to speak out for drug use on the courts, pitches and fields of the world’s most famous sports. Larry Sanders of the NBA is the one of them, and his response to being suspended for drug use has sparked massive controversy.
Suspension and Response
On April 4th, 2014, Larry Sanders was suspended for five consecutive games, putting him out of commission for the season. Sanders, who plays center for the Bucks, had already missed several games due to an eye injury he suffered on the court. The 2014 season is proving to be the player’s most tumultuous one to date as he was involved in a brawl in a Milwaukee nightclub earlier in the year. Sanders sustained a torn thumb ligament in the scuffle, causing him to miss eight early-season games.
Now, the NBA has suspended Sanders for failing to adhere to their strict anti-drug policies. The drug that Sanders was found to have used was none other than marijuana, a drug that has now been cleared for recreational use in two states.
The NBA’s anti-drug policy calls for a mandatory five-game suspension should a player test positive for marijuana. Because Sanders is currently recovering from his on-court injury, and because the suspension won’t commence until he’s active, he’s likely to begin the 2015 season on the bench—a season that’s worth $44 million to the player.
The Bucks released a succinct statement, reminding all of Sanders’s responsibility to set an example for the youth of the world, and that both his teammates and management were disappointed by his actions. Sanders quickly released his own statement: “I apologize to the entire Bucks organization and our fans for being suspended five games for using marijuana in violation of the NBA Anti-Drug Program. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Mere hours after his suspension was announced, Sanders changed the game up. In a second statement, the player said that he feels “strongly” about marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug, and that he believes that the drug’s status is political in nature. He further said that the stigma surrounding marijuana use is rooted in its illegal status, and that when it becomes legal in every state, that stigma will go away. Reassuring fans that he has no intention of shirking his responsibilities, the player said: “I will deal with the consequences from it.” Of consequences: players John Drew and Richard Dumas were permanently banned from the NBA for repeated drug violations in 1986 and 1995, respectively. They’re in good company.
Taking things a bit further, Sanders said, “It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it.” Many professional athletes have spoken out in favor of marijuana usage, including Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Carroll claims that the NFL should expend its own resources on determining whether medical marijuana could help its players recover from injuries sustained on the field. Carroll is on record stating that the HFL wastes valuable resources and time testing players for cannabis usage.
The NBA adopted a formal anti-drug policy in 1983, when technology had rendered testing for various substances cost-effective. All players are subject to random testing for these substances. Players are tested during pre-season as well, and rookies are tested at least three times a year. The league relies on The National Center for Drug Free Sport to administer and analyze the tests. Test results go directly to the NBA Commissioner’s office. In the NBA, the very first drug violation comes with a hefty five-game suspension, while the third offense sidelines a player for a staggering 25 games. Each penalty requires mandatory participation in the league’s “anti-doping program.” It seems unlikely that the NBA will slacken its anti-drug position any time soon, regardless of whether soft drugs like marijuana gain widespread acceptance. After all, the argument could be made that any substance that alters a player’s mind or physical abilities—for better or worse— should be kept off the court.