In the last week Seattle has become all too familiar with the NFL’s policy on marijuana use. Despite the fact that recreational toking is legal for adults in Washington, cornerback Walter Thurmond has reportedly been suspended for four games for a failed weed test, and cornerback Brandon Browner – a founding member of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom – is reportedly facing a year-long suspension thanks to the ganja. Browner’s Seahawks career is widely expected to be over thanks to his latest drug-related run-in (he served a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs last season and reportedly failed another test during a stint earlier in his career with the Denver Broncos).
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the NFL’s policy on weed is just plain dumb. Even with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the NFL continues to suspend players (and, in Browner’s case, perhaps curtail their careers) for indulging in pot. “The NFL’s policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today Sports last year in the aftermath of successful legalization efforts in the home states of the Seahawks and Broncos. “Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program.”
In other words, the NFL has no problem taking millions of dollars, and jeopardizing millions more in future earning potential, for a transgression “a clear majority of Americans (58%)” say should be legal, according to a recent Gallup poll. Meanwhile, the world’s most successful sports league continues to largely ignore alcohol consumption. Ask Josh Brent how dangerous that can be. At the start of the current season there had been 107 drunken-driving arrests since current commissioner Roger Goodell took office. Much like Marshawn Lynch’s career rushing yards, that number has only risen since then. “The current level of deterrence associated with a DUI is insufficient,” NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch told USA Today Sports back in September, calling for mandatory suspensions instead of fines for first-time drunken drivers.
There’s no doubt that whether NFL players should be suspended for smoking weed is a debate worth having at this point. The science says smoking dope is safer than consuming alcohol, nearly 60-percent of Americans think it should be legal, and there’s absolutely no competitive advantage to be had by the occasional bong hit.
That said, perhaps the larger take away from the Seahawks’ recent pot problems is that players who do get suspended for smoking weed are even dumber than the policy itself. While the common perception is that the NFL employs a strict, random drug testing policy, when it comes to street drugs like marijuana that’s simply not the case. As former wide receiver turned convicted drug trafficker Sam Hurd told Michael McKnight of Sports Illustrated’s TheMMQB.com, he smoked pot “all day, every day” during his NFL career, and distributed weed to 20-25 of his teammates. It would seem beating the NFL’s marijuana testing was the least of their worries. As Michael David Smith broke down on ProFootballTalk.com, “According to Hurd, players know approximately what time of year they’ll get tested and just stop using when the test is coming up, then use again the rest of the year once they’ve provided their annual urine sample.”
The caveat is that once a player DOES test positive for pot, they’re thrown into the league’s substance abuse program, which is where suspensions and negative press become possible. When a player reaches what’s known as Stage Two of the NFL substance abuse policy they become subject to random drug testing up to 10 times a month. A positive test in Stage Two results in a four-game suspension and the forfeiture of four game checks. A failed test once a player reaches Stage Three triggers a year-long suspension – the fate that Browner now apparently faces.
Again, as Smith broke it down on ProFootballTalk.com: “Basically, the NFL’s marijuana tests catch only players who aren’t smart enough to figure out the drug-testing system, or players who have such problems that they simply can’t stop for long enough to let drugs clear their systems once a year.” Unfortunately for Seahawks fans, it would appear that both Browner and Thurmond fall into this category.
Perhaps it’s time to rename the Seahawks’ secondary the Legion of Dumb.