A den of iniquity in Eugene, or just a lot of blowing smoke?

By Jayson Jacoby April 27, 2012 08:26 am

So apparently quite a few football players at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, smoke marijuana.

I spent four years on the campus in Eugene, and I seem to recall the subject of cannabis consumption coming up now and again.

In fact, before I ever scrawled my name on the U of O application I had an inkling that the place had a reputation for, well, permissiveness as regards the demon weed.

There’s a reason the Grateful Dead favored Eugene over, say, Corvallis.

And it’s not because Jerry Garcia was afraid of livestock and disgusted by bad football.

Suffice it to say that the revelations in a recent story in ESPN The Magazine about marijuana use among Duck football players didn’t raise my heart rate by more than a beat or two.

I’d have been a lot closer to incredulous had the article alleged that players had agreed to stop getting tattoos.

Which isn’t to say I was happy to read that, based on the decidedly unscientific estimates of unnamed players, about half the roster tokes up.

Duck defenders quickly piped up, pointing out that even if those figures are in the ballpark, well, the situation in Eugene is hardly unique — that marijuana use among college students, whether athletes or not, is widespread across the fruited (and well-fertilized) plain and over our purple mountains (and grow lights) majesty.


But it’s also true that marijuana, by and large, is illegal.

There was no mention in the ESPN story about Ducks lining up to acquire Oregon medical pot cards, in any case. But then I suppose it would be tough to convince even an accommodating doctor that athletes capable of bench-pressing (and outrunning) Shetland ponies also suffer from debilitating symptoms which only THC can relieve.

Anyway, it annoys me that football players, who are the most visible ambassadors of their university (and mine) don’t just break laws but do so in such a brazen way as blabbing to the magazine whose name is synonymous with sports.

This erodes, albeit slightly, the joy I have felt over the years watching the Ducks rise to elite status in college football.

It’s not that I’m prudish.

Although I’ve never smoked pot, I drank a fair volume of beer before I turned 21.

Which makes me just as much of a scofflaw as a student who smokes a joint.

But then nobody paid my tuition.

Or tutored me when I got waylaid by the confusing twists of medieval politics or mired in the morass of geomorphology.

(I’m still not clear, for instance, on the particulars of the Great Schism. And I’m helpless to remember whether basalt is comparatively rich in silica, or poor.)

Also unlike Oregon football players, I wasn’t bound by an athletic department anti-drug policy that metes out punishment for violators.

(Shockingly, the U of O wasn’t impressed by my prowess in sports, which peaked about age 10 when I won a couple of low-level free-throw shooting contests, which were ideal for me because you didn’t have to dribble if you didn’t want to. Or guard anyone. I was a pretty fair gloveman as an infielder, too. But I couldn’t hit my way out of a paper sack.)

What really incenses me about this pot publicity is that it inspires critics, both among the media and fans of rival schools who are tired of being trounced by the Ducks, to make silly pronouncements about how the U of O has, in effect, sacrificed its reputation (and its sobriety) for a Rose Bowl trophy and top-5 rankings.

Until someone conducts an exhaustive survey of all 120 Division I football programs, and proves conclusively that Eugene is a den of iniquity befouling a pristine landscape of chaste choir boys — and the ESPN piece doesn’t even try — those critics are, as the saying goes, just blowing smoke.

In reality, dousing the dope culture at the U of O is a quixotic goal.

Oregon, unlike some states, prohibits universities from randomly drug testing student-athletes.

(The NCAA can order random testing.)

And marijuana, though illegal, seems to be as readily available as alcohol, a situation I’m certain is not unique to Eugene.

(Why alcohol, which figures prominently in recent football player scandals at both Oregon and Oregon State, gets a pass but pot generates big headlines is another matter.)

Ultimately, I wish the Duck football players would just show a tad more self-restraint.

And I don’t mean telling reporters “no comment.”

We already expect a lot from college athletes, to be sure.

Yes, they get scholarships and meal tables and a host of other advantages not available — not for free, anyway — to other students.

But those other students don’t have to practice for several hours each week. Nor do they, quite literally, risk their necks on a dozen Saturdays each fall to entertain thousands of people.

Me, for instance.

Still and all, I’d appreciate it if more Ducks would not merely pass the joint when it goes around, but pass on partaking.

Or at least avoid inhaling.

They’re still teenagers, many of them.

They’ll have plenty of time to indulge in pot later.

And for those who sign NFL contracts, plenty of money, too.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.