Anti-pot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is entering the Super Bowl ad war around New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, countering a recent pro-marijuana campaign with advertising of its own that implies weed makes people bad at football ... and life in general.
SAM chairman and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) reiterated the ad's message in a statement, saying that pot “is not a safe drug, especially for kids, and we need to reiterate the message to coaches, parents, players, and teens alike that it has no place in football.”
While SAM's website presents a diverse set of concerns about marijuana, its Super Bowl ad doesn't reflect such depth. Instead, it puts forth the same claim drug warriors have used for years: Marijuana has no benefits and using it turns people into lazy, apathetic losers who are bad at life. If they have potential, pot will steal it from them, they insist. But that's news to some football players and other athletes around the world who SAM is using as examples of people who could kill their "drive" with marijuana use.
If past player estimates are correct, somewhere around half of NFL players smoke pot, either for medicinal or recreational purposes, despite a league policy banning the substance.
The NFL itself is finally being forced to come to terms with the realities of the drug. Both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks come from states that have legalized recreational weed, where adults 21 years and older are now permitted to light up a joint on their couch while they watch the game (and the hundreds of beer commercials that accompany it). And in the league, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll have recently said they're willing to consider that marijuana may do more than resign its users to mediocrity or failure.
SAM's ad is right on a few notes: Football does take "motivation, perseverance, and determination." It's also correct that smoking pot doesn't require any of those things (and if you think it does, you might be doing it wrong). But are we to believe that marijuana has sapped these qualities from the athletes that use it, or that their athletic success has been attained only because they didn't use pot earlier in life? Anyone who is dedicated, gifted and just plain insane enough to become a professional athlete could be an example of a great player of the "game of life," regardless of whether marijuana is a part of that life.
Marijuana, like any drug, can be abused, and people -- especially kids -- undoubtedly have more productive things to do than get high (or drunk for that matter). But SAM's ad is further clouded by the fact that the direct physiological effects of pot abuse or isolated use remain hazy, due to a lack of scientific research on the federally banned substance.
But while marijuana use may not necessarily destroy the brains and bodies of promising athletes, the stigma and harsh legal penalties attached to it certainly can. At all levels, an arrest for marijuana possession can be detrimental to a career, leading to losses of playing time, scholarship or sponsorship money, and the respect of the athlete's organization. Currently, high school coaches and administrators in Colorado are worried about a surge in pot-related expulsions since the state legalized weed.
The tide of anti-pot demonization is clearly starting to turn in the world of athletics, however. Even the NCAA -- which for years handed down harsh punishments for athletes who tested positive for pot while fully aware of the prevalence of alcohol use -- is finally preparing to reduce penalties for marijuana use.
Does any of this mean professional athletes, aspiring sports stars or anyone, young or old, should be encouraged to smoke weed? Of course not. Nobody needs to be. But discouraging them, especially with rhetoric like SAM's, has proven ineffective for decades. This ad can't honestly hope to change that.