Your Mission Mr. Phelps . . .Don’t Apologize, Explain!

Is the corporate and media fallout from Michael Phelps bong hit justified? Are we still conditioned to react with shock and appall when we learn that yet another world-class athlete enjoys marijuana socially or recreationally? Or medicinally? The comments of athletes such as former NFL lineman Mark Stepnoski testify to the medicinal benefits for an athlete who deals with pain issues. LA Times reporter Chuck Culpepper noted in a recent article, “five-time Pro Bowl NFL lineman Mark Stepnoski, who said on the record it helped him sleep and alleviate pain without enduring painkillers or hangovers.”

Robert Parish is another example of a high-performance athlete who benefited from the medicinal benefits. His legendary NBA career lasted for 22 years. When he was 43, he committed a youthful indiscretion of having a couple of ounces of reefer Fed Ex’ed to him. Fed Ex had him busted because they do not want to be known as a drug courier. The question arises, if a guy is 43 years old and playing effectively in the NBA, he must be doing something right. Could it be that the medicinal aspects of marijuana helped Parish to prolong his career?

When I was in college in the 1970s, I played basketball and ran track at a D-III school in the South. Most of the varsity football, hoops, and track guys enjoyed the herb socially and recreationally. We found this was so at most of the school where we visited and competed. In some instances, coaches tolerated brazen violations of what are now called “team rules”, when a college player gets suspended for a game or two. They were hilarious at the time and just as funny now. Our star defensive tackle was one of my close friends. One day he said in between hits, “THIS is an athlete’s drug; it gives us some relaxation, helps us sleep, and doesn’t mess with your liver or organs like booze.”

Steve Kiner was an All-American linebacker at the University of Tennessee in the late 1960s. I happened to have him as my counselor at the UT Sports Camp the summer before his senior year. Kiner was a rough, but good-natured, good-time guy. One night, he came to dinner full of good humor with bloodshot eyes. In between yucks he downed about eight hamburgers. Years later, the suspicions were confirmed.

As a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1970, Kiner roomed with Duane Thomas and they nurtured each other’s habits for recreational substances. Thomas went onto a more destructive bent with other drugs. Many years later, Kiner said in an interview: “When I was a sophomore, I thought I was so good that I could smoke during the week, and I made All-SEC. My junior year I thought I was so good I could smoke every day, as long as I didn’t do it on game day, and I made All-American. My senior year, I thought I was so good I could get stoned for games and I made All-American again. So, when people ask me about marijuana, I don’t recommend it; but I can’t tell people they shouldn’t do it.”

Some sectors of the medical profession safeguard the interests of patients who have dire or grave conditions such as AIDS, wasting syndrome or cancer. At the same time, growing evidence presents that it also is helpful in managing back-neurological issues, insomnia, and PTSD. So aside from playing a valid role in helping gravely ill patients, marijuana also can play a role in maintaining optimal health.

Rickey Williams used reefer for managing his anxiety disorder, and said he found it more helpful than the sedative based drugs like ativan and lorazepam. Rickey is back in the league now, which is a good thing. So apparently he gave up reefer and went back on their approved anti-anxiety meds. When he retires, he’ll probably buy a house in Oakland and be cool. It wasn’t for nothing that he offered to play here when he was in between suspensions.

Recent subjects who got in trouble for smoking or possessing reefer have included Joakim Noah, Mario Chalmers, Daryl Arthur, and three Penn State football players. Scott Ostler, the columnist for the SF Chronicle noted a few years ago, “If you took a group picture of all the NBA players who’ve smoked marijuana, you’d have to take it from 10,000 ft.”

David Stern was FURIOUS with Arthur and Chalmers. Truth be told, the boys did use bad judgment by having a party during the orientation program that counsels against just that. However, Stern’s hissy-fit was mainly for the red staters and the corporate element, aside from his own self-righteousness. Corporate money drives college and professional sports. Corporations are concerned about image. Any form of marijuana usage, be it medicinal or recreational is frowned upon by corporate interests. That’s why they have more powers than the government to search your desk, person, car, locker or anything else if you’re suspected of holding contraband in the workplace. I wouldn’t want to work at Kellogg. Meanwhile, Phelps’s European endorsements deemed the bog hit to be a “non-issue.”

Medical marijuana is a hot political issue – until now, it’s been too hot for the corporations and organized sports to reconsider. The federal government has been violating “States’ Rights” on this issue since Clinton , so they haven’t had much encouragement to get with the program. But it’s all related: get the Feds to honor the validity of Medical M and the corporations and other levels of government will fall in line. Eventually we’ll be as cool as the Netherlands . A guy can dream, right? Twelve state legislatures have said so. Twenty-four more to go!

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Performance-enhancing drug? No way. Then why is it a banned substance for the Olympics, NCAA, and most pro leagues? Because of the corporate image thing. The NCAA lists more than 100 substances in different categories on its banned list, but marijuana is a one of two substances banned as a “street drug.” The other is heroin. This illustrates the extent to which marijuana has been demonized by the corporate arm of college and professional sports. Why? Because it’s an image thing. Personally, I blame all this on the Reagans, Ronald & Nancy. They’re the ones who started encouraging America ’s kids to rat on their parents if they found or smelled reefer. They encouraged neighbors to report neighbors if they suspected “drug abuse.” Ronnie gave us the “forfeiture laws” that resulted in homes, cars, boats and cash being confiscated if contraband was found.

As a result, the culture of trust that developed in the 60s and 70s quickly dissipated. Sharing a joint used to be a great ice-breaker for getting to know a new neighbor. Now, new neighbors are viewed with suspicion for a few years in many places.

Given all the pressure, it would be too much to ask Michael to become a spokesman for the legalization and medicinal issues. But other than apologizing to his mother for the embarrassment, he owes no one an apology. Spare me the agonized judgments of the swim team mom in Colorado who was “appalled and disgusted.” As a lifelong veteran of the swim team culture, I know that 90% of the people you meet at swim meets are wonderful people. Either sweet mommies, cool dad dies, or good kids. The other 10% are the most neurotic, quixotic, psychotic people you’d never want to meet. They’re the ones who get good coaches fired and cry crocodile tears about a “role model” smoking reefer. Meanwhile, Phelps’s European endorsements deemed the bong hit to be a non-issue, according to Culpepper’s LA Times article. Hopefully, the new occupant of the White House can lead the way to change this paradigm and restore the culture of trust we once enjoyed.

H. Scott Prosterman

H. Scott Prosterman is a writer, humorist and editor in Berkeley, California . He was born in the ’50s, came of age in the ’60s, thrived in the ’70’s, barely survived the ’80’s and regrouped in the ’90’s.” He holds a B.A. w/Honors from Rhodes College ; an M.A. from The University of Michigan . While in Ann Arbor , he coordinated the campaign to save the $5 for possession in 1983.

Based in part on an earlier article, Reefer, Sports, and the Constitution.

Published by the LA Progressive on February 12, 2009
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About H. Scott Prosterman

H. Scott Prosterman is a writer, humoristm and editor living in Berkeley, California. He was born in the '50s, came of age in the '60s, thrived in the '70's, barely survived the '80's and regrouped in the '90's." He holds a B.A. w/Honors from Rhodes College; an M.A. from The University of Michigan.