Addiction doesn’t matter under collectively-bargaining drug policy

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Earlier this year, Colts owner Jim Irsay made a compelling case for compassion when it comes to addiction.  For players subject to the substance-abuse policy and testing program, it doesn’t matter.

“These diseases, both alcoholism and addiction, much like bipolar or depression and different illnesses, are still not seen as real diseases,” Irsay told Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.  “People shy away from seeking help because it’s viewed as being somewhat morally off the path, that they’ve lost their way.  I really think the disease aspect gets lost when you’re talking about alcoholism and addiction; it’s not like you’re battling leukemia or a heart problem; it is that.  But even in 2014, there’s still this stigma.

“That stigma gets carried forward and it’s unfortunate because people die and families get affected and people don’t seek treatment. It’s an unusual disease in the sense that the person has to diagnose himself.  He has to realize that there’s this genetic disease you have to deal with through treatment.  My grandfather and father both died of the disease, and you realize you’ve spent a lot of time on this path.  Certainly, I have.”

If Browns receiver Josh Gordon has an addiction to marijuana, shouldn’t those same concepts apply to him?  In theory, yes.  As a practical matter, the NFL and NFLPA decided back in the Nancy Reagan “War on Drugs” days that the league should have the right to reach into a player’s bladder from time to time in order to police whether he has been smoking marijuana or taking other recreational substances that don’t enhance performance.

Fair or not, just or not, reasonable or not, the league and the union jointly decided long ago that the NFL would serve as the unofficial police force when it comes to the use of marijuana and other street drugs.  So what if a player is in his own home, on his own time?  The stone tablets from Park Avenue say, “Thou Shalt Not Wake And Bake.”

The challenge for the NFLPA will be to decide whether to attempt to secure relaxed standards regarding marijuana.  Collective bargaining entails a give and take; if the union wants something, it must be prepared to give something up.  The current system, which imposes a once-per-year test between April 20 and August 9 on players not in the program, can be easily navigated by players who want to smoke marijuana and who are able and willing to stop in the middle of March and quit until after their annual test has happened.  The NFLPA must decide whether to give up something to the NFL in exchange for changes that ultimately help the small percentage of players who aren’t smart enough to quit in March, or who due to an addiction can’t.

Until that happens, players will real addictions will face the ultimate loss of employment for a full season, if they can’t produce clean urine up to 10 times per month.  Meanwhile, Irsay will battle his own addiction issues without fear that, if the disease wins from time to time, he could eventually be kicked out of the league for a year.

And until the NFL applies the same substance-abuse testing program to the owners that it applies to the players, the NFL can never claim with a straight face that owners are somehow held to a higher standard than players.

39 responses to “Addiction doesn’t matter under collectively-bargaining drug policy

  1. This is an illness that is the result of your own choices – whether you intended for it to happe or not. But the likelyhood that treatment works is extremely low just like with incarceration. The odds are pretty darn high your not kicking the habit. The ones that do are pretty much lotto winners. In other words, don’t do drugs.

  2. Im wonder if someone who is riddled with addiction is of sound mind to run a NFL Team in a compentent manner…i have my doubts…

  3. Here’s a way to beat addiction: don’t drink it, don’t smoke it, don’t sniff it, or don’t shoot it.
    But of course, no one knows that things like weed, cocaine, heroine and such drugs are addictive and have a negative effect on the human body, right?

  4. Josh Gordon is being suspended for a year for not graduating college which is a lot different than a drug “addiction”. Had he come in the league in the regular draft and not the supplemental draft he’d only have 1 strike against him (his 2013 reduced suspension for the PRESCRIBED strep throat medicine). THAT is the issue. A guy is being punished as a repeat offender for things he did when he wasn’t a member of the NFL or NFLPA.

  5. Thou Shalt Not Wake and Bake isn’t just written on the stone tablet from Park Avenue, it is also federal law.

    While marijuana use has become socially acceptable and the dangers have been shown to be far less than previously advertised, there is still a federal prohibition on it regardless of how many states decriminalize it.

  6. Many employers test for illegal substances. Not because of performance enhancement, but because it impairs your ability to operate in a normal function.

    Its about safety. They dont want players like Bell and Blount driving while impaired while on their way to work, or while working, or on their way home from work. It now puts the employer on the hook for these individuals actions.

    Defend marijuana and alcoholism all you want. I have no problem with people imbibing (I am pro legalization), but I do have a problem with people dying because others are careless.

    Jim Irsay was careless. Dante Stallworth was careless. And that is the real problem. Innocent people being killed by people ingesting an illegal substance. The NFL follows Federal Laws and Regulations, as they operation in 22 states. They are mandated to treat it as an illegal substance across the board.

    The NFLPA has discreet programs available for addicts. Addictions can be hard to kick, but you have to take responsibility for your own life and your own actions. Josh Gordon knew what was at stake. Ricky Williams knew what was at stake. They wont be the first, and they wont be the last people that pick pot over football. It sucks, but that is the life they have chosen. They werent born addicted to marijuana.

  7. Shouldn’t you be making a distinction between physically addicting and mentally…..opiads/ alcohol create physical dependancies…..weed is psycological and much more of a choice IMO…..

    I think in Gordon’s case he got screwed becuase it doesn’t even appear based on the levels that he was smoking…..but he made enough choices in college and in the NFL to put himself in this situation so I don’t feel too bad for him

  8. Whoa. Wait a minute. Where is this “Marijuana is addictive” coming from? All I have heard and read, both on this site and in the news, is that it is non-addictive; particularly from the pro legalization groups. Can anyone inform me when this claim suddenly changed?

  9. You can’t be addicted to marijuana. It’s been proven. As someone who smokes weed daily, I can tell you that it is my choice. Not an addiction.

  10. Practically speaking, how could the CBA take addiction into account? If there were breaks for those who were addicted, then every guy caught would conveniently claim to be addicted. It’s not like there’s some blood test that could positively identify the truly addicted ones from the pretenders.

  11. It’s a mentsl illness. You have to nuts in the head to smoke that stinking repulsive weed.

  12. We all know what the ” give and take ” issue is. If the union allows
    Goodell to have final say on HGH then a deal could possibly be
    completed on marijuana. It puzzles me why Goodell feels the need to
    be judge and jury. It did not seem like Tagliabue was front and center
    on all issues. The debacle with the saints should have been a lesson
    for Goodell…..stay above it.
    We all know that marijuana is here to stay. What is worse for a player
    trying to wind down after s very stressful week and game ….a bottle
    of vodka or smoking a joint. We all know what is far more damaging.

  13. I was a daily weed smoker for 10 years and had to quit for a job and had zero withdrawl symptoms. It may be mentally addicting for some people, but saying that someone is addicted to marijuana vs. say prescription pills for example which are 100% legal with a prescription mad have horrible withdrawl symptoms is absolutely ridiculous

  14. Comparing some addiction to booze or drugs to having a real disease is ridiculous. People don’t choose diseases while people chose to start drinking or doing drugs.

    I have no doubt it must be tough to overcome a substance addiction but I am sick of people playing the “poor me” card about it like they have the gene that forced them to drink or do drugs.

  15. According to the professor I had for psychopharmacology in graduate school, in order for a drug to be classified as addictive, there must be physical withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine, for example, is addictive, because if you use it regularly, then quit, you’ll get a headache. Use alcohol heavily for a while, you get delirium tremens (the DTs) when you try to quit.

    There has never been a physical withdrawal symptom noted in medical journals for marijuana, therefore, it is not addictive. Habit-forming, yes, but habitual use is not medical addiction.

  16. Yea, we’re being pretty loose with the term “addiction” here. Gordon is no more addicted to cannabis than overweight players are addicted to junk food. It’s all in his head.

    There are people with real chemical dependencies that need help. Gordon just needs to act right and hold out for, long overdue, reform laws.

  17. The regular season just can’t start soon enough for Goodell and his chronies… He just can’t seem to stay out of his own way these days. A lot of folks are beginning to believe that he is ruining the NFL.

  18. I thought there was no such thing as an addiction to marijuana. Has it now become convenient to admit there is?

  19. What everyone seems to forget when they cry about legalizing pot is that you cant test to see if someone is actually high. Between blood and breathalyzer tests you can tell if a person is intoxicated at that moment. Give the same test several hours later when the effects wear off and they come up clean. When testing for pot it is in your system for about 30 days. How can anyone tell if you are driving or operating machinery impaired? I am sorry, I wouldn’t want to work next to someone that could cause my injury or death because they were baked. When they can test for it and tell if a person is impaired then I’m game to change the rules, but until then it is still illegal.

  20. Marijuana is not addictive. PERIOD! Any repetitive behavior can become a psychological addiction, even excessive internet browsing. But there is not a single ingredient in cannabis that causes addiction. This has been proven over and over, and even the AMA takes this stance.

    Marijuana, is however, a great pain reliever. A non-addictive pain reliever. The country is turning rapidly on this issue and the herb will be legal everywhere in a few short years. 100 percent guarantee on that one.

  21. Easiest and best thing to do would be to modify the Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow players that are suspended b/c of drug/alcohol/addiction/mental illness to be in contact with the team, be able to be at the facility, but only to receive support and treatment for their disease while still allowing no football activities. The player could meet with a counselor along with coaches, management and other player who can/will offer support and assistance. Really not that difficult to allow the team to give the player the support they need while the player is getting help.

  22. First, as others have said, marijuana is not addictive (or so all those who want to legalize it insist).

    Second, if you want a union, and you negotiate a CBA, then that is what you are stuck with. Company management CANNOT allow one-offs or even “do the right thing” because it becomes precedent. Union contracts demand that everyone be treated the same, and exactly as the contract states, so there you go. You want to change, renegotiate.

  23. “War on Drugs” is such a misleading and ridiculous term. It’s a war on us.

    If we cared for and educated our addicted and hurting without filling our prisons with non-violent offenders it would do our country so much good it’s not even funny. No one on this board can honestly say they’ve made only good decisions in life. Getting addicted wasn’t the choice made, it was the outcome of a choice that went very wrong. These aren’t inherently bad people that deserve exile…but that’s what the war on drugs has done.

    We have 5% of the population on the planet but our prisoners make up 25% of the imprisoned population on the planet….50% of those are non-violent drug offenders. The war on us makes up $26.5 BILLION of the current budget…considering the cost of holding a prisoner the total cost goes to $51 BILLION…

    How is this working?

  24. bluntsmokinskinsfan says:

    You can’t be addicted to marijuana. It’s been proven.

    Did you read that in High Times?

  25. As a recovering addict, 21 months clean, the addiction doesn’t have to be physical, to be an issue. Issue comes when there are consequences, as in this suspension. If he doesn’t, or feel like he cannot, or does not need to quit, therein lies the problem.

    As to addiction being a disease or not, it IS recognized as a disease. But, the argument about the choice is correct. I did choose to get high. I did NOT choose to become addicted to it. It happens sometimes.

    It’s proven that rehab and 12 step programs work. I am proof. It is something that needs to be treated, just like diabetes. The drug doesn’t matter, it’s the reason you use that matters.

    I wholeheartedly believe, if you can use drugs without suffering any consequences, more power to you. Imbibe. I just can’t. I lost all rights to a chemical romance. And that’s just fine with me today.

    a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

    “bacterial meningitis is a rare disease”


    illness, sickness, ill health; More

    infection, ailment, malady, disorder, complaint, affliction, condition, indisposition, upset, problem, trouble, infirmity, disability, defect, abnormality;

    a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people.

  26. The weak, the cowardly, and the evil doers, won’t just say “No!”

    If you refuse to ruin your life and health you will never be addicted. The addicted are easily manipulated.

    The marijuana trade by definition is organized crime. We would have a much better society if everyone simply said “No!” to organized crime.

    Don’t throw away your freedom.
    Don’t be controlled by organized crime.
    Save your life and health, just say “No!”

  27. He may not be addicted to weed(I don’t think its addictive). However like me he may just have an addictive personality. I have to stay away from drugs and won’t even take pain meds prescribed to me because I know that my addictive personality would take over. Addiction is a disease. I’ve been clean for just over two years and I can say with all honesty that if I were to take some pain meds from the doctor I would more than likely spiral out of control.

  28. Hate to break it to you, but weed is not an addictive substance as are narcotics. You get no physical or psychological withdrawal from ceasing to smoke pot.

  29. Politics aside, showing mercy for “psychological diseases” such as addiction is a slippery slope. While it seems reasonable in this case, it can logically be applied to others which we wouldn’t seem worthy of mercy. Let’s take the two big examples from this summer.

    Joshua Gordon. Let’s say he struggles with addiction. We have no medical diagnosis of such a disease, but for arguments sake let’s say it’s plaguing him. He did not choose to be an addict, but rather suffers from physiological imbalance that potentially lies beyond known scientific findings. He is then caught with weed in his system and suspended for it. Is he suspended for being an addict? Is he suspended for having a disease? No. He is suspended for the choices he made and receiving the consequences as such, regardless of the disease.

    By comparison, Ray Rice. Let’s say he struggles with mania. We have no medical diagnosis of such a disease, but for arguments sale let’s say it’s plaguing him. He did not choose to be manic, but rather suffers from physiological imbalance that potentially lies beyond known scientific findings. He is then caught battering his girlfriend, fiancé, whatever, and is suspended for it. Is he suspended for being manic? Is he suspended for having a disease? No. He is suspended for the choices he made and receiving the consequences as such, regardless of the disease.

    While addiction and other psychosocial disorders are real, they are not a crutch to explain away behavior. Addiction or not, Gordon knew the rules he had to abide by and was caught outside those guidelines. If he truly suffers from the disease, I hope he gets the help he needs. But that isn’t enough to justify buying and illegal recreational drug, ingesting a banned substance, or putting himself in the position to be caught in unlawful situations.

  30. It may not be clinically addictive according to the medical community, but then again the medical community has been remarkably inept in dealing with marijuana. They think is is medicine, but any medicine you need to burn and inhale to administer has consequences to ones health. A pro athlete shouldn’t be sending the smoke of anything into his/her lungs.

    Gordon may not be technically addicted to weed, but it seems he is addicted to getting high on a frequent basis. The fact that he is using a substance that is banned as a condition of employment makes it a simple decision. I don’t care if he is the best receiver in the history of football. Pete Rose was arguably the best hitter in the history of baseball, and he broke a rule of employment too. I don’t care if you are a Hall of Fame player or some meathead schlump heaving cases around a warehouse, if you break the rules of employment because you can’t control yourself, you need to find another job.

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