Though we are marching slowly but surely toward marijuana legalization in this country, private employers have the latitude to keep antiquated marijuana rules in their bylaws. Though employees in all fields have to deal with the tyranny of outmoded drug testing rules, nowhere is this more evident than in sports. Some of the greatest athletes in the world have been sidelined for toking. Here are some of the greatest sports heroes who have been punished just for smoking a little green.
Across the field from Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant looked to be part of the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. A season-long suspension has dashed those hopes, making the Pittsburgh Steelers the greatest marijuana advocates in professional sports. Bryant overcame a similar suspension last year to have an electrifying season, despite struggling with depression, a health issue marijuana is known to ease.
Even if you are in the argument for greatest Olympian of all time, you aren’t immune to society’s hypocrisy. Following the release of photos of the swimming great smoking a bong, USA Swimming opted to suspend Phelps for three months even though there was no drug test or legal trouble involved. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, you know that Phelps turned out just fine.
Fans have been anxiously awaiting Le’Veon Bell’s opportunity to supplant Adrian Peterson as the marquee running back in the NFL. Injuries and suspensions have kept Bell from looking like the future hall of famer many believe him to be. He’ll sit out the first three games of the 2016 season for smoking weed, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners. Running back careers are often among the shortest in the NFL due to non-stop physical trauma. It is no coincidence that Bell has struggled with both injury woes and marijuana-related suspensions.
Larry Sanders has turned his 2014 and 2015 suspensions from the NBA into an opportunity to spotlight marijuana advocacy. Sanders is one of a few suspended players to speak out in favor of the medical benefits of the green. He told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “I study [medical marijuana] and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways, we’ve been deprived.”
Williams’ legacy is forever tied to cannabis. Projected to be one of the greatest running backs of his generation, his career was hampered by the NFL’s marijuana policy from his early days with the Saints to the end of his career with the Dolphins. He even endured a year-long suspension in 2006. Despite his repeated run-ins with league by-laws and flirtation with early retirement, Williams still managed to string together numerous 1,000-yard seasons during his career.
One of baseball’s best pitching prospects just made his first major league start on Saturday. Reyes was handed a 50-game suspension in 2015 just as he was about to break through into the majors, even though big-leaguers can only suffer financial penalties (no suspensions). Though he was ranked as the second best prospect in all of baseball, he had to wait out his suspension before he could cash in his ticket to the big show.
Former Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith was suspended for a handful of games following a 2013 positive test for marijuana. After this suspension with the Knicks, it feels like karma that Smith was traded to the Cavaliers and became a key part of the 2016 championship team.
The hypocrisy of pro sports marijuana policies is most evident in the case of Von Miller. The Denver Bronco was suspended for four games in 2013, a year after the state of Colorado had already legalized the drug. Playing on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL is one of the most physically demanding roles in all of sports. Miller is among a number of defensive players to be suspended for smoking, including Sheldon Richardson and Daryl Washington, many of whom have cited pain relief as a motive for smoking.