Lieberman: Marijuana use among football players is largely a matter of University public relations

Good morning, afternoon and evening, fellow Ducks. I hope this article finds you in high spirits on this, the holiest of days.

All right, that’s enough of that. Because, let’s be real: Weed puns are simply too easy to make. Just ask former Oregon receiver Samie Parker, whose response on Twitter to ESPN’s expose on marijuana use in Eugene — possibly unintentionally — crafted a giggle-worthy play on words.

The ESPN piece he refers to, published online early Wednesday afternoon, quickly made waves across campus. Well, at least among some students, staff and faculty. For others, the response was a bit more muted.

As in: How is this even news?

Of course, there are legitimate answers to that question. Primarily, the story is news because it addresses issues that affect the eligibility of high-profile athletes in a town where college football reigns supreme.

But beyond that, it’s notable due to the candid, if not flagrant, manner in which current and former players and staff discussed illegal drug use.

The piece is a great read for anyone interested in the underground culture of Oregon football,@@doesn’t sound underground if the percentages mean [email protected]@ or the habits of cannabis aficionados. But as far as groundbreaking news goes, this was about as far from earth-shattering as you can get.

This just in: College students in Eugene smoke weed.

That being said, I’ll admit that the numbers do speak volumes. If the piece’s author, Sam Alipour, is taken at his word, Oregon football can lay claim to nearly three times as many tokers as the average college football program.

For Ducks fans who continue to blindly accept the Ducks as demigods, it’s a harsh reality. But for those of us who have interacted intimately with the football team — at a party, in class, in a dorm — the results should carry less weight.

Believe it or not, on a daily basis student-athletes face the same decisions, both instrumental and insignificant, as the rest of the student body.

Should I skip class?

Should I go out tonight?

Is that girl checking me out?

O.K., that last one is mostly reserved for the athletes.

Regardless, the answers aren’t crafted by tutors at the Jaqua or the coaching staff or administrators. These are behaviors largely dictated by subconscious reasoning. For all college students, that reasoning tends to sharpen over four years of independent living.

No matter how you view these choices from a moral standpoint, they are undeniably private. It’s only when they affect athletic eligibility or on-field performance that they become public fodder.

And that’s why Cliff Harris, Jeremiah Masoli and Kiko Alonso paid their dues. Their off-field behavior began to tarnish the public image of the program.@@oh [email protected]@ That made it illogical for them to represent our University on a national stage without suffering severe consequences.

The actions described in the ESPN article are firmly stationed at the other end of the spectrum. We’re talking about private lifestyle choices that should have little to no relevance in the public sphere.

At its core, discreet marijuana use on the football team isn’t a legal issue, and it’s not an issue of University policy. It’s chiefly concerned with public relations. The athletic department doesn’t want a reputation as an enabler, and the majority of players don’t want to be labeled potheads. In a landscape where recruiting momentum can swing in a split second, this is a blindsided swipe that threatens to rub blue-chippers (and their influential families) the wrong way.

It just so happens that across the nation alcohol represents a more socially acceptable form of recreational drug use. There is no rationale to support that reality. It’s something that’s larger than Oregon, college football or student-athletes in general.

As far as I’m concerned, Alipour’s article provided a fascinating, detailed peek into a Oregon football team subculture. But in a scandal-ridden NCAA, the issue of moderate marijuana use is laughingly immaterial, especially in light of serious oversights that have rocked the foundations of football programs across the nation — including our own.

Spend your 4/20 in whatever way you find most suitable. However, no matter what you do, keep in mind that it’s your prerogative. Student-athletes have a duty to represent Oregon in the best way possible; they’ve committed to making choices that protect our public perception. But they also deserve the same liberties granted to the rest of the student body.

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David Lieberman

David Lieberman