Thursday, July 01, 2010

Losing that fake concern about drugs in sports, made easy

At first blush, it was like someone didn't see Run Ricky Run.

It was tough to stay reined in after reading Winnipeg Sun column pointing the CFL's new drug policy is toothless and PR-motivated. (Rob Pettapiece has tackled the CIS angle over at

Seeing "illegal drugs" and having marijuana lumped in with steroids was almost cause to go off after a long three weeks of seeing much of the drive-by media cock up the Waterloo War-roids story.

Plus it poked fun at Ricky Williams. Who does that anymore? The Washington Times, which is obviously run by liberal guilt-ridden propper-uppers of permissiveness, describes him as "a guy who just wants to spread the love."
"With a policy like this, Ricky Williams might want to come back.

"Actually, the use of marijuana, the former Toronto running back's drug of choice, isn’t even covered in the CFL policy. Neither is cocaine.

"The message to players: if you find the NFL's policy on 'recreational' drugs too stifling, come on up! The Cannabis Football League has a job for you!

"Wouldn't team presidents and GMs, most of whom claim to be so eager to connect with their communities and their fans, particularly families, want to know if their players are abusing illegal drugs?"
A sober second thought is that is actually a great takedown of how old media pander to a 21st-century answer to reefer madness with steroids and PEDs, the shorthand term. As a whole, it talked a lot about the Waterloo debacle, but didn't listen or learn.

No one wants to chat about how CFL and CIS football players using steroids is just a sports-of-the-times thing. The reality a a newspaper column is a 600-word sprint makes it even harder to approach. One might as well go the other way and be satirical.

For the last time, what happened at Waterloo was no shock. Look around. Big Pharm has a hook into about everybody and nutritional supplements can be bought by any student, fact. That has almost been a fourth wall in much of the Waterloo coverage. Steroids bad ... over-the-counter stuff that might work like a steroid pretended away.

Of course, we can't have that conversation. It would force OMDs to confront their own bias and cease and desist from being governed by their hang-ups and need to judge a younger generation. They're not going to give that up, especially when falling back on shallow snark out of uber-defensiveness is available.

That means the above from Paul Friesen is brilliant, and that is said in full sincerity.

He pointed out how print journalism is so self-limiting when it comes to examining anything complex. It was hook-line-sinker on this end, to the point an e-mail had to be sent just to ask for explanation. On further review (a phrase that is apt after the Saskatchewan Roughriders' wild win over the Montreal Alouettes), it works on several levels.

It skewers our dated attitudes about how sports should uphold some notion of muscular Christianity instead of athletes outwitting and outplaying each other for our vicarious joy.

The same goes for how people get in a bunch about illegal drugs. Meantime, they pay no mind all the readily available legal ones that have created a trendy career for women who look a lot like the breadwinner at Mike Fisher's home.

Using Williams as an Athletes Behaving Badly straw man hits on an irony in sports fandom that we don't talk about much. Why does the marijuana-smoking Miami Dolphin have such a stickiness, while jocks who have committed heinous crimes that made life difficult for at least one other human being go straight down the memory hole?

Dollars-to-Doritos says if we walked into a bar showing a CFL game and asked people about Ricky Williams, all could ID him as a halfback who is a lover of the herb. How many could tell you about Trevis Smith, a Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker whom in 2007 was sent to prison for knowingly exposing his sexual partners to the HIV virus?

That is effed-up that we remember Ricky and forgot Smith. You might halfway seriously wonder why we obsess more over what male athletes put in their bodies than what some have put in a woman's body against her will, excuse the crassness.

That last graf calls out that collective effed-upedness:
"Wouldn't team presidents and GMs, most of whom claim to be so eager to connect with their communities and their fans, particularly families, want to know if their players are abusing illegal drugs?"
Feigning concern about for "families" and using "illegal drugs" as an all-purpose blanket term are classics out of a career politician's handbook.

It shows concern without addressing the matter. As such, each has become a common media trope that could and should be retired faster than the Blue Jays' 3-4-5 hitters on most days.


A sports team may be family-friendly, but it's not a morality cop.

The Trevis Smith saga actually illustrates this very well. Family-friendly really just means a family of four can still afford to watch a competitive team play a game amid a raucous atmosphere. That's it. That is the connection the CFL (and CIS football) has to make.

The crowd in Regina at the Riders' CFL 54-51 overtime win over the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday is a proof.

The Riders are one of the most profitable teams in the CFL and the most passionately followed. Their fans, like all fans, have voted with their time and disposable income that their support begins and ends with the product.

Having a player convicted of a crime was embarrassing for the Roughriders organization in 2006. Then-GM Roy Shivers was fired while all this was before the courts, but it was for a variety of other reasons. Point being, it passed. However, abject behaviour by players, coaches, or team execs (see Eric Tillman) has little sway with rank-and-file sports fans. They can sort it out on their own and continuing living their lifes without any media moralizing.

That should make it clear we have little to no need to extend the nanny state to the performers in spectator sports. It's like some people want that in order to screen out contemporary life from creeping into their notion of the world of fun and games. Oh, not stupid reality again! It's the damned modernity which shapes the fun and games, pal.

Denying it makes you as a big a goof as Stephen Valeriote. He is a former Waterloo football player who tried to blame the adverse tests at his alma mater on almost all things CIS except the testees (and the two players who have been arrested and charged).
"So you ask yourself: ‘Why were so many players at UW on steroids?’ Was it because that the only way to compete with older, heavier, stronger players out east and out west was to bulk up?

"I don't like to criticize without offering a solution. In order to purify men’s university athletics, I suggest that they adopt the following rules:

"Ban ex-OHLers or Jr. A hockey players;

"One year in junior football or Quebec prep school equals one year of university eligibility."
Purify? Who believes anything is pure now? We find a peace within a state of compromise, so GTFOY, sir. Get. The. Fuck. Over. Yourself.

Far be it to point out CIS men's hockey has not had a positive doping test in almost forever. Never mind asking how the average age of football players at out-of-province schools could have influenced behaviour among players at Waterloo. The Warriors could only meet those teams in a national semifinal or Vanier Cup. (Hah!)

Since Valeriote is a school teacher, one can only presume he'll swallow it wholeheartedly the next time a student fails to turn in classwork and blames it on someone else.

Any culture of prohibition is a rearguard action. Legislating morality is a losing battle. The only line is when drug use is a symptom of a discipline problem that affects one's job performance. Stereotypes aside, it might not in all cases.

Whose job is it to instill the personal responsibility which keeps one on the straight and narrow? The people who look after you for the first 18 years of your life. Parents, the main part of the family unit.

Acknowledging that means baby boomers have to really look at how their four decades' of self-indulgence have trickled down to millennials.

Just thinking about that would make their collective lips numb. There's probably something you can take for that. Which brings us to:

Illegal drugs?

Using wacky-tabaccy-loving Williams as Mr. Bad Example, tongue in cheek, spoofs how careless some in the Canadian media are/were about in providing context on this matter.

Dogging Williams obviously doesn't hunt. His drug habit is far from the worst among NFL castoffs who have come to the CFL in the past 15 years. Remember Todd Marinovich? He was a former first-round flameout who told Esquire writer Mike Sager (no relation) that he shot heroin at halftime during his short-lived stint with the B.C. Lions in 1999.
"Todd retrieved a premade rig out of his locker and went to the bathroom to shoot up. Sitting on the toilet, half listening to the chalk talk, he slammed the heroin. As the team was leaving the locker room for the second half, he struggled with the screen in his glass crack pipe — he wasn't getting a good hit. Then the pipe broke, and he lacerated his left thumb. By the time he got out onto the field, his thumb wrapped in a towel, the game had already started. He took up the clipboard, his only duty. 'I didn't even know what play they were calling,' Todd says. 'Nobody looked at the shit I wrote down anyway.' "
Todd Marinovich did heroin at halftime. Do you need Norm Macdonald to repeat that for comic effect?

And that segues into the drive-by media's blind spot, that aforementioned fourth wall about nutritional supplements, a highly unregulated industry. The prevalence of prescription drugs in everyday life is barely mentioned, too.

People know. However, it gets in the way of keeping a column or story simple(istic).

Rob put it best:
"Now that we have a list of banned substances, and the use of any of them in CIS counts as a first strike with respect to the CFL's policy, an enterprising reporter could take Appendix D from this PDF, then go to the well-known supplement franchise with several locations in the country (some close to university campuses) and whose website lists product categories like 'anabolic agents' and 'pure creatine powders,' then find something with lots of levels of one of the banned substances in it, then ask how many of those products have been sold recently to young men. But I guess that's too esoteric a task."
Of course, that ain't gonna happen.

Who wants to read that drug use in Canadian university football might only be only marginally more prevalent than it is among males ages 15-34 who exercise regularly? That is not sensational or sexy.

It would also jeopardize the concept any athlete who has not tested positive for a banned substance is by deductive reasoning a clean athlete.

Perhaps someone is getting by on eating well and getting eight hours' sleep each night.

It would probably be more honest to just accept most high-level competitors have their little helpers. Every profession has something. Imagine a newspaper put out in a world without caffeine.

That would be much more honest about where we are as a society. That's all this is, a plea for a little more honesty, which means to stop scapegoating athletes, especially the ones in CIS who make an easy target.

The obliviousness to how all drugs reshape our lives is just tiresome. (As a friend put it: "Do you eat meat? Well, you took a steroid.") By the way, the aforementioned Eric Tillman, the former Roughriders GM who had to leave after he was convicted to sexually assaulting his family's 16-year-old babysitter? He attributed his actions to the effects of prescription medication. No irony there.

In closing, it is sickening the University of Waterloo used a criminal investigation of a couple players as a kneejerk excuse to whack its football team and throw 53 players under the bus.

One may only wonder if other Ontario universities are wondering why they couldn't be so lucky to have a gift-wrapped reason to not compete in CIS football, during an an era when the calibre of play is on a huge upswing. (So, so Canadian: it's getting tougher to win, so why try?) It is equally nauseating to see the same 53 players received the angel treatment, too.

Honesty replacing fact-plus-fiction and truth-minus-facts (Chuck Klosterman's characterizations of most news stories) would involve the media not seeing everything as so cut-and-dried.

Specifically, is it that wrong to think the CFL not testing for cocaine and marijuana is barely worth a mention, since neither is the issue?

One, not testing for it might reflect a quaint view there is still some right to privacy left in the world. Two, it might be an admission it is hypocrisy to bust players for that when there would be no pro football worth watching if not for stronger legal drugs used during training and recovery periods. (Those are taxed drugs, so the government doesn't fret about them as much.)

The CFL, by its actions, essentially said:
"Look, we realize people decided we were expected to come up with a doping policy like all the big boy-pants wearing leagues, even though we always have been and always will be an independent minor league with oddball rules. So this is the best we can do. It's not going to catch everybody, but it'll help us sleep at night. Now go work out your moral and ethical dilemmas on your own instead of expecting to find answers to them between the lines of a football field."
The world where a sports commissioner could say that is the world I one day to want to live in.

In not so many words, the CFL kind of did address fans and media as if they were adults. Fans are so there. The media not so much.

That "Cannabis Football League" crack, even if it's sarcastic, is reminiscent of the exact kinds of remark that kill in a newsrooms that are bastions of old-media hubris. It does not reflect trying to challenge one's own set of assumptions, let alone so-called conventional wisdom. It just reinforces it.

Old media got old for reasons beyond technology, people. That's why there's not a snowball's chance in hell it can discuss such a topic seriously.

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