The Oregon Ducks football team smokes marijuana, something that can be regarded as “cultural acceptance” for the city and the team.
Set the scene anywhere in the general area of Eugene, Oregon. The atmosphere is slow and friendly, the skies are grey and it probably just rained. The talk is—as always—centered on the Ducks football team.
Today, fans from across the state discuss the recent ESPN exposé on the prevalence of marijuana among football players at the school. As a student at the university, this is not news but exposure for the school. It’s a story that, now that it has reached mainstream attention, ought to be discussed. But no one, including myself, is shocked.
The article only confirms what everyone and anyone familiar with the university and the culture that surrounds the school already knows.
The Oregon Ducks football team, which acts as a collection of collegiate athletes, are among another group of individuals in college that have a tendency to smoke marijuana. This is no surprise to many.
They do, after all, live, work, and play in the hippie-driven city of Eugene. While the NCAA estimates that 26.7 percent of all college football players have smoked weed within the last year, the story on ESPN suggests that the breakdown for Oregon is more like 40-60 percent.
To find so many smokers, it’s important to find a school in a city in which the drug is more widely accepted as “OK” with which to experiment. Eugene has a rich history with the drug. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize the drug, and the state was a “pioneer” in the industry of establishing a policy that accepted a practice of legal medical marijuana.
With a hearth of the plant found in Northern California, geographically bordering the state of Oregon, the drug has found its way into the state of Oregon for more than just the football team.
The article discusses the prevalence of a joint to be as commonplace as a beer. Despite the illegality of the drug, this remains to be true for a dominant majority of students in college. For a drug regarded as a “social lubricant” at a school in which outdoor activities can be inhibited by the constant rainy weather, the practice of habitual usage rates is undeniable.
“Some of us smoke, then we went out and won the Rose Bowl,” said an anonymous player on the Oregon Ducks football team.
Does that mean that every star player on the Oregon Ducks football team turns into Wiz Khalifa when they go back home to the comforts of their private apartments?
For these players, there is a commitment to the team that comes first and the answer remains to be “of course not.”
Just because there is a large group of players that do experiment with the drug does not mean that head coach Chip Kelly wears rasta dreads and hippie beads, bong in hand, when he welcomes players into the locker room or into his office for recruiting.
In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Academics still come first for the football team. While the state of Oregon prohibits random drug testing, if a player misses class, he becomes immediately subject to a drug test in which marijuana is among a positively testable substance. After a fourth positive test, the player is dismissed from the team.
Unlike at a smaller school in which the dismissal of a star player would be taboo for the university, Chip Kelly dismissed star All-American defensive back and upcoming NFL Draft hopeful Cliff Harris from the team.
Harris faced several disciplinary actions regarding maturity issues, several of which involved marijuana usage. The final straw was citation for less than an ounce of marijuana when he came home to Fresno, California. Perhaps his friends were interested in what the hype in Eugene was all about.
Regardless, on top of the strict administrative watch, the players admit to a self-enforcing code in which players that do not perform well while under the influence of the drug are approached by the team encouraged to quit.
So long as the players can stay focused and avoid getting caught blatantly disobeying the laws of the team and of the state, there are worse things to hear that the team is experimenting with, as this is a much less harmful story than steroids in baseball.
“If it helps them stay relaxed in front of the electric crowd at Autzen Stadium, I say more power to them,” says Oregon student and lifelong Oregon Ducks fan Tyler Haycraft. "But it's almost of a cultural statement on Eugene than it is anything else."
To ignore that is simply naive. The story here for Oregon fans is not that the team smokes weed—that was both assumed and accepted long ago. The story is that the culture is getting mainstream national attention.
The piece published today was, after all, the lead story on ESPN before Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt stepped down from her position.
“I love that ESPN thinks it’s a story that college athletes smoke pot, especially in Eugene, Oregon. Wake me up when there’s real news,” tweeted Eugene resident, Tom Kinslow.
The ESPN story is focusing more on a social stigma than one of legality. In the state of Oregon, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor comparable to a jaywalking or speeding ticket.
While the Oregon athletic department explicitly bans the drug, the policy has to be in place so that they do not openly welcome the usage of the drug. Within every law, there are loopholes and administrators turning blind eyes.
I found out about this story via Bleacher Report’s post on their Facebook page. “You might want to sit down for this one,” the page wrote. “According to ESPN, college athletes smoke marijuana.”
Immediately, I figured that this story would mention my school. That’s just the culture of what this college town represents. For the football team, the legality of the drug is as definite for them as it is for anyone in the dorms or off-campus.
As often as we like to assume that these athletes are demigods that should operate on a higher moral plane, the fact of the matter remains to be that they are peers of mine. They are college students, dealing with the pressures and stresses of earning a degree, and act under the whim of making their own life choices.
“Yes, some abuse it. Yes, it's not exactly harmless,” writes Aaron Fentress for The Oregonian. “But if the worst thing that typically happens when you do a drug is that you end up scrounging through couch seat cushions in search for spare change to purchase Funyuns, then it probably shouldn't be an overwhelming concern.”
For me, the usage is a non-story. The coverage and reaction to the story makes for a bigger interest in the ongoing sociology of sports and the way that it represents our view on American culture. Marijuana is still stigmatized on a national level by much of the media, but this story only illuminates an ongoing truth.
When you’re in college there are decently good odds that you might smoke marijuana, even if you can also run a 40-yard dash in less than five seconds and have a potential future in the National Football League. Sometimes, you also want to live a normal human life and make your own choices.
Click here to Follow @BryanKalbrosky.