In a puff of smoke
Marijuana is still considered bad news for athletes
By Marc Katz
Speaking of sports and marijuana, which I wasn’t, I do have a confession to make up front:
I’ve never tried marijuana.
I also don’t care if you have, unless you’re driving in a car coming the other way from a place where you decided to smoke the equivalent of a six-pack of beer, however much that is.
I’ve seen too many police blotter reports. Many people don’t stop at one puff.
But one puff may soon be legal, anywhere. There has also been movement within the NCAA to lessen penalties for those who test positive during random checks.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, there were very few checks on “street drugs” until the 1980s, and then, I suspect, because sports were being overrun by steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
Currently, there are seven types of drugs banned by the NCAA, starting with stimulants and ending with street drugs.
But marijuana use is commonplace and is becoming legal in several states. In athletics, it’s just not allowed. Use on the wrong day, you’re going to get caught, as Ohio State defensive back Terry White did more than 30 years ago.
White, a terrific Ohio State defensive back for two seasons, was held out of the 1985 Rose Bowl for marijuana—and maybe a little coke—and ultimately was kicked off the team.
He’s fine now, reports his former teammate Keith Byars, whom White later listed as a mentor whose message didn’t quite get through.
White resurfaced at West Virginia, a team the Buckeyes were scheduled to play in the second game of the 1987 season. I put in an interview request, driving over to Morgantown a month before the season began.
Someone from the West Virginia sports information staff told me I shouldn’t ask about drugs, but I already circled that as my first question, and White, from Cambridge, Ohio, was as forthcoming as any athlete I’ve ever interviewed about his predicament.
“When I was in high school, I never had anybody tell me, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” White says. “I was smoking when I was 12 years old, constantly, until I was about 20. Right after he [OSU coach Earle Bruce] kicked me off the team, I did it about twice [more]. Then I said, ‘No Terry, don’t get back into that.’”
In 1983, OSU team physician Dr. Bob Murphy told me about a program where speakers visited the Buckeyes to talk about the dangers of becoming addicted to drugs, gambling, and drinking—things that only seem recreational.
Then came the testing.
“The first year, the first drug test we had, I failed,” White says. “It was for marijuana and coke. I was held out of the start of the Purdue game, and [the Boilermakers] went right down and scored.”
White says he thought he had a problem, but when he was home, that was his environment.
“The area I lived in, in Cambridge, it was prevalent,” White says. “It was hard for me to say no…because you were used to doing [drugs] all the time. Then, all of the sudden, it was test time. If you wanted to get high or party, you did.”
There was a bunch of other stuff in the article about how White had cleaned himself up and given up drugs.
After playing two years at West Virginia, White had two years of training camp tryouts with NFL teams, failing to make it either time. Who knows if it was only for performance?
White returned to Cambridge with his drug addiction now spinning out of control. He spent time in prison, was rehabbed, and began working for nonprofits in Columbus.
His football dream was over, but his life revived.
Drug testing became a staple in all sports. Those who could play best didn’t pay much of a price for doping. Pitcher Steve Howe was suspended and reinstated seven times. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens finished their careers.
Outfielder Tim Raines, who admitted to playing a season on cocaine, has been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Maria Sharapova is working on adjusting her “heart” medication.
College guard Gary McLain admitted in Sports Illustrated several years later he was high on cocaine during Villanova’s 1985 championship victory over Georgetown.
Lance Armstrong remixed his blood so many times it became an art form at bicycle races.
Drugs have become bigger and more prevalent than ever, easier to mask, and more difficult to ignore.
And there are always the questions: Does a puff of marijuana lead to harder drugs? Does a bottle of beer lead to over-consumption?
For using marijuana today, Terry White may never have been suspended, or at least it would have been a little bump in his athletic road.
Times have changed, but not so much that drug use is allowed. That may not be the way you’d like to see it, but it’s the way it is.
The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.