A couple of weeks ago, I argued that, other than furthering their attempts to regulate and control the lives of their athletes, the NCAA has no legitimate purpose for testing its athletes for recreational drugs (such as marijuana). This conversation evolved out of Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington’s suspension for the College Football Playoff national championship game as a result of a positive test for marijuana prior to the Duck’s CFP semifinal game against Florida State. Carrington’s teammate, senior running back Ayele Ford, was also suspended for the title game against Ohio State, although it’s still unclear the banned substance for which he tested positive.
One of the issues I didn’t address in that original piece that I believe is of significance revolves around Carrington’s and other collegiate athletes’ knowledge of the NCAA banned substance list and the drug testing protocols. Some would argue that because players are (or reasonably should be) fully aware of the NCAA’s rules regarding drugs, and agree to abide by these regulations, they have no one to blame but themselves for any positive test. While I agree that the NCAA should take any and all steps necessary to inform its athletes on its rules regarding banned substances, and that athletes should educate themselves, the argument that players freely consent to drug testing is a farce.
Before student-athletes are allowed to practice or compete in NCAA-sanctioned events, they are required to sign a waiver stating that they understand the NCAA’s regulations concerning banned substances and drug testing. Failure to sign and consent renders one immediately ineligible for collegiate competition; eligibility is restored only upon signing the waiver. I know this because I have begrudgingly signed such a form three times in my career as a Stanford athlete (in the interest of full disclosure, I have never been tested by Stanford or the NCAA).
I don’t like the fact that the NCAA can violate my privacy by testing me for various substances, but I value the personal and professional benefits of competing as a student-athlete to a greater degree. At this point, it doesn’t really feel like a choice — the NCAA puts its athletes in the untenable position of weighing their right to privacy against the opportunity to compete for their institution.
Sounds more like coercion to me: Either sign and consent, or be stripped of the privilege of being a student-athlete. Of course, almost all collegians agree to the drug testing protocol, but are forced to relinquish their right to privacy in the process. The fact that they are faced with this calculus in the first place is what bothers me, if only because the NCAA should not take it upon itself to monitor activities that would otherwise be private matters.
Another question that crossed my mind concerning the NCAA’s rules regarding recreational drugs is, if the intention in banning such substances is to protect the health and welfare of the student-athlete (an albeit noble goal), why not also prohibit the ingestion of tobacco or alcohol? Heck, why not ban fast food, sugary drinks or candy? Don’t those have deleterious health effects as well?
If the NCAA is really concerned about what its student-athletes are putting in their bodies, why stop at marijuana, cocaine and heroin? Maybe if the NCAA is really interested in the overall health of their athletes (and not just forcing them to conform to their standard of morality), perhaps it would add “Junk Food” as a category on its banned substance list. All joking aside, isn’t it just the least bit odd that a collegiate athlete could have black lungs or cirrhosis from tobacco and alcohol ingestion (and the NCAA wouldn’t bat an eye), but smoke a little doobie doobie and you’re facing a lengthy suspension?
To be clear: In no way am I advocating using drugs like marijuana, because science (and common sense) tells me it’s not a healthy habit to take up. However, just because I believe something is deleterious to my health doesn’t mean I have the moral right (or authority) to restrict another person’s ability to make the choice for themselves. The NCAA has violated this basic tenant of personal freedom, the only remedy for which is to remove the class of “Street Drugs” from the banned substance list.
After his athletic eligibility is over, Cameron Miller plans to take back his rights to privacy, and a salary, from the NCAA by serving as a paid extra in Harold and Kumar’s latest film. To continue the “doobie doobie” discussion with Cameron, please e-mail him at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.