Up In smoke: Why are young NFL stars willing to risk their careers for marijuana?

09/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

They are young. They are talented. They have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars in the NFL. They could be stars. Their potential is unlimited. But these guys aren't on the field. They're serving suspensions for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. So instead of playing, they're watching the prime of their career's be wasted because they can't stay clean.
Justin Blackmon is the first of this group that comes to mind. Blackmon was selected 5th overall in 2012 by Jacksonville after a stellar college career at Oklahoma State. Before he ever played a down of professional football though, Blackmon was arrested for DUI in June of 2012. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, he was given a four game suspension from the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. After returning to the Jaguars later in the season, he was suspended indefinitely for again violating the substance abuse policy. He would've been eligible for reinstatement in 2014, but was arrested prior to the season and charged with possession of marijuana. He checked into a recovery program, but was denied reinstatement to the NFL in May of this year, and will not play in 2015.
Josh Gordon could be one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL. His talent is undeniable. His potential showed for the Cleveland Browns in his rookie season in 2012, and he exploded as one of the top players at his position the following season. Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, despite missing the first 2 games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. In 2014 he was suspended for the first 10 games of the season for again violating the policy. And he was suspended for the entire 2015 season for another violation of the policy.

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Drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martavis Bryant burst onto the NFL scene in his first career start, catching a touchdown pass on his first ever reception. Bryant would score 6 TD's in his first 4 career games and established himself as a deep threat that defenses had a hard time stopping. What did stop Bryant was a 4 game suspension prior to the 2015 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
What is going on here? At what point don't these guys realize what they're throwing away? Bryant at least is getting counseling while serving his suspension. But what about Gordon? He has the potential to be possibly the best wide receiver in the NFL. And it's been reported that if Blackmon does return to the NFL, his career with Jacksonville is over.
I understand that marijuana is legal in some states with NFL teams. That could make for an interesting situation if a player on a team in one of those states is suspended for marijuana use, since it would technically be legal. I understand that more states will continue to legalize marijuana and at some point, it will probably be legal nationwide. But what I don't understand is why these guys can't stay away from it with the opportunity they have? The average NFL career is just under 7 years. The physical demands of the game wear out the human body. And it wears it out faster when a player gets older. These guys are throwing away their best years now, and for what? A truck driver knows that random drug testing at his place of employment means he could lose his job. He's not getting millions of dollars per year. But he's smart enough to know that he could lose his lively hood if he smokes weed. So if you have the opportunity these NFL players do, why would you not have the common sense to not smoke marijuana?
Some have said that maybe veteran teammates should step in and try to guide these guys. That the NFL should maybe offer more to help. What else does the NFL need to give these players? Anything they need is available to them. It's not up to the league. It's not up to teammates. The only people responsible for these decisions are the people making them. It's up to these guys to realize how stupid their decisions are and man up and start making the right choice.

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