A Pot Confession, Drug Testing and Pro Sports

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Ed Gordon talks with sportswriter Bill Rhoden of The New York Times about one pro football player Ricky Williams' admission that he smokes marijuana. Should his statement carry the same penalty as a positive drug test?

ED GORDON, host:

The relationship between drugs and sports is long and complicated. League commissioners have recently concentrated on cleaning up steroid abuse, but one pro football player is making news over another banned substance: marijuana. New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden joins us to talk about the latest headlines made by one of the NFL's rebels.

Bill, welcome. We should note that this interview is coming out of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," where we hear Randy Moss, a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, suggests that, `Hey, I use marijuana. I don't abuse it but, yeah, I've used it over my years in the league.' So often, Bill, we act as though this is something that should, in fact, surprise us. I know a lot of these guys; marijuana is used quite regularly, frankly.

Mr. BILL RHODEN (The New York Times): Yeah. I mean, you know, Ed, I mean, I was a little stunned that people were making such a huge deal out of this. And I'm not trying to--marijuana is illegal and we have to say that and, you know, I don't like the use of drugs and all that, you know. Having said all that, the fact that people are making such a huge deal out of this is kind of--stuns me particularly when you're talking about a guy like Randy Moss, and particularly on the heels of Ricky Williams. And Ricky Williams took the whole season off so he could, you know, smoke dope, you know. And then Robert Smith comes on, I mean, shortly after that and says...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RHODEN: ...`Well, yeah, I mean, I kind of get high, too,' you know. So...

GORDON: How much of this, Bill, is the new breed of athlete? Randy Moss and Ricky Williams, both all-pros, fantastic players, can almost afford to, if you will, because of their talent, buck the system a bit. We've seen it with the two of them. How much of this is, perhaps, a less hypocritical athlete saying, `Look, I do it'?

Mr. RHODEN: I--you know what? At one level I think you're right. You know, Allen Iverson--there's a whole kind of, quote, unquote, sort of the "hip-hop generation" of athletes kind of keeping it real. But, you know, you and I both know, you know, this has sort of been going on for ages, since I started covering sports in, you know, 1972, you know? You had Duane Thomas; you had people who were just--I mean, in particular--we're talking about marijuana in particular. I mean, this is something that's long-standing. And I think that--yeah, I think that you're on to something and that you have a generation of athletes who are making so much money that they can just say, `You know what? This is what I do. You know, I'm really good. You need me. You know, I'm going to'--and in Ricky Williams' case, `I'm going to walk away from the sport for a year.'

So at one level, yes, I think that athletes--some athletes--just have the power and the money to walk away, but I also think that this is something, particularly when you talk about, you know, marijuana use, that's been going on for a long, long, long time.

GORDON: Bill, real quick for me, if you will. What about the league's accountability? Often the league, when this is raised, acts as though they're surprised, but, quite frankly, coaches have known, owners have known, league presidents have known that this is very prevalent in their sport.

Mr. RHODEN: If they wanted--yeah, I think that if they want to attack this--if they really think that this is a serious problem--and, to some extent...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RHODEN: ...it's a problem to the extent that...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RHODEN: ...you're going to have more guys getting stopped. But yeah, they--all they have to do is start testing for it...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RHODEN: ...and start putting some really, really harsh penalties on it. But I think they're not going to do that...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RHODEN: ...because they won't have teams.

GORDON: All right. Well, Bill Rhoden of The New York Times, Randy Moss once again giving us something to talk about. Bill, thanks for joining us today. Appreciate it.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey, thanks a lot.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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