During the past offseason, NFL defensive back Ryan Clark, who had just completed his last year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, talked about how some NFL players, including certain of his Steelers teammates, smoked marijuana to deal with stress and manage pain from their football injuries.
From the reaction of fellow players, one would have thought that Clark had accused his brethren of drowning kittens. He was taken to task and pretty much branded a liar for suggesting that dope-smoking went beyond the stray locker room bad guy. The public didn’t need Clark to tell them plenty of players are lighting up joints in their spare time. Clark simply broke the “code of silence” when it comes to what happens “in the room” or, in this case, in the athletes’ private lives.
With the NFL testing system for marijuana being what it is – essentially a joke – the only way a player can get caught and suspended for marijuana use is if they do something incredibly stupid.
And that brings us to a couple of knuckleheads named Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, a pair of Steelers running backs who were arrested recently for essentially re-enacting a Cheech and Chong movie scene on a busy suburban Pittsburgh street. According to Ross Township police, an officer detected a “strong smell of marijuana” coming from the car occupied by the two athletes and a female companion. The officer said Bell, who was driving, had red, glassy eyes and dilated pupils. When asked if anyone in the car had been smoking marijuana that day, Bell allegedly replied, “It was about a minute ago.” According to a police report, he also said, “I didn’t know that you could get a DUI for being high.” Really? A person who has been on this Earth for 22 years and even attended college for three of those years had no idea it wasn’t OK to take drugs and get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Incredible.
It’s that stupefying stupidity, if nothing else, that should get Bell and Blount suspended. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, as is his style, talked all around the issue. He assured reporters that the team will take action against the two dimwits, though he said that punishment might not be revealed. Thus far, he’s made them pay for their transgressions by putting in more playing time in last week’s exhibition game. Imagine that. Punishing football players by making them play football. That’ll teach ’em.
If the allegations are true, then Bell deserves to lose some games, and money, for driving while intoxicated. Possession of marijuana, in and of itself, is hardly a heinous crime. Some states already have decriminalized the drug, and we have editorialized in the past in support of Pennsylvania doing the same. At the very least, we would hope for quick action to legalize medical marijuana.
That said, possession of marijuana remains a crime in this state, and even if the drug were to be legalized, it still would be illegal to smoke it and get behind the wheel. Also, it’s against the drug rules of the NFL to smoke marijuana, so some sort of punishment can be expected.
Certainly, the team is within its rights to not wait on the league and to impose its own punishment, within the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement, but when it comes to doing the right thing, the Steelers, over the past few years, have been wildly inconsistent.
When the dear, departed Santonio Holmes was arrested some years back for misdemeanor marijuana possession, the team immediately sent him to the bench for a game, but in the case of Bell and Blount, there’s talk of letting the legal process play out. In March 2008, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, one of the most important players on the team, was charged with smacking his girlfriend. His punishment, from the team and the league: absolutely nothing. Less than two weeks later, Cedric Wilson, a backup wide receiver for the Steelers, was arrested for punching his girlfriend. The team cut him almost immediately.
In this latest case, it will be interesting to see what the Steelers do on their own, if anything. And who knows what the NFL response will be. This is, after all, a league that gave the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice a whopping two games off for punching his then-girlfriend unconscious and dragging her limp body off an elevator.
One thing we can say with certainty: Bell and Blount sure are fortunate that there’s no death penalty for being an idiot.