Why Is the NFL More Concerned About Pot Smoking Than Rape?

The NFL has many priority problems. The concussion “situation”—the spike in number of players diagnosed, the $1 billion lawsuit from insurance companies against the NFL, and the league’s questionable research practices on the matter—is perhaps its most famous. This is likely because it directly impacts the bodies of those who play the game, so it’s an unavoidable issue for spectators. By contrast, the priority problems that affect who has an opportunity to play at all and for what salary are usually less on display; most casual viewers only catch wind if such matters cause a suspension or otherwise interrupt their team’s roster.

Despite our tendency to overlook important off-the-field issues, a dozen NFL teams and social media coverage of their decisions made the often invisible priority problems of the league hard to miss during this year’s draft. Most pointed is the difference between how this year’s star prospect, Laremy Tunsil, was received compared with last year’s star Jameis Winston. Video evidence that you smoked some pot one time? Teams are worried you might be a “problem” if they sign you. Be the subject of the highest profile rape accusation in college football history complete with damning evidence and an administration/city law enforcement cover-up? You’re celebrated after going number one, just as anticipated.

Laremy Tunsil was projected to be the number one draft pick this year—a big deal for a left tackle, as the top slot usually goes to the higher profile, point-scoring positions like quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Considering only the first 19 picks last year received fully guaranteed contracts, just going first round isn’t enough. To ensure you land a contract that will take care of you and yours beyond your ability to play in a very dangerous, volatile game, you need to go in the first half of the first round.

So when Tunsil’s hacked Twitter account tweeted a video of someone assumed to be him smoking weed through a gas mask bong moments before the draft kicked off Thursday night, all he could do was delete the account and watch as millions of dollars literally went up in smoke. Tunsil eventually went 13th to the Miami Dolphins—not even the top left tackle in the draft, let alone number one overall.

This year, the number one pick is expected to land a contract worth $28.65 million, while number 13 should come in around $12.76 million. Tunsil lost an easy $16 million+ and gained an undeserved label of “problematic player” because he smoked some pot in college. As Ian O’Connor reported for ESPN.com, that seconds-long video of a player inhaling—something, by the way, our president admitted to before we elected him twice—sent teams running for the hills:

“So the prospect who was once considered the likely No. 1 pick in the draft became the prospect teams were afraid to touch. Baltimore took another tackle at No. 6 (Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame), and the Titans took another one at No. 8 (Jack Conklin of Michigan State). The Giants could’ve used their 10th pick to better protect their aging franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, but opted instead for a second Eli Apple, a cornerback from Ohio State.

‘He was the highest-graded player on our board,’ said Giants general manager Jerry Reese, ‘beyond the guys with issues.’”

“Guys with the issues”—aka, guys who smoke pot? A non-violent act that’s legal in some parts of the country?

I typically ignore the draft hoopla and wait for one of my favorite sports writers to tell me how it went and how my team did, but playwright/“comedy person” Jack Moore’s feed nabbed my attention first:

I had Jameis Winston—who signed a four-year, $23.352 million contract last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite accusations of raping a fellow FSU classmate—automatically suggested for my Fantasy Football team yesterday morning as I was ranking my QBs before our league’s draft. This is what it’s like to be a rape survivor and a football fan: You watch and listen as prominent national public figures comment on what they’d need to believe us. You watch as sexual predators are celebrated every week—both those who are “just” accused and those who have been convicted.

USA Today has an NFL Player Arrests database. I count 10 with sexual assault and/or domestic violence charges from 2015 alone. I count at least eight in 2014, the year before teams were falling all over themselves to sign Winston. And those are just the official arrests—for a set of crimes that are widely under-reported and all too often not taken seriously by law enforcement. NFL players are arrested for domestic violence, rape, battery, sexual assault every year, but league leaders are clutching their pearls over some pot—a substance that’s increasingly (and accurately) seen as less harmful than alcohol. I asked Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation and host of the “Edge of Sports” podcast about the disconnect:

“The NFL has a ‘man code’ baked into its ethos that sees weed as a greater mark against your character than sexual assault. It really is sick. Is it because marijuana is seen as a relaxant, something that makes you lose your edge while sexual assault is associated with the hyper-aggression that makes for good football? I don’t know. But I do know that many NFL GMs [general managers]—most of whom never played the game—could benefit from putting down the coffee and chilling the hell out.”

Moore also made another good point in his Twitter feed:

The chances that Tunsil and his teammates will be prescribed medical marijuana for football-related trauma injuries is pretty damn high. But heaven forbid that’s not the first time they inhale.What does the commissioner have to say about the whole thing? Roger Goodell was true to his never-fails-to-disappoint form:

So, your league’s gross disproportionate handling of its player and prospect histories leading to the loss of millions of dollars and the labeling of a player who has yet to be on an NFL field as one of the “guys with the issues”—which could cost him future millions as well—is just an “exciting” marketing moment?

Classy, Roger.

Goodell’s problematic (to say the least) history on almost every issue imaginable has been well documented by many, including Zirin who called for his resignation last year and has painted the commissioner as both the abuser and the savior in his handling of domestic abuse cases. Suffice it to say, it’s time to revive Ultraviolet’s #GoodellMustGo campaign.

I would love nothing more than to watch Tunsil excel as a player, rack up some records, and make every team that passed on him regret their cowardice. So, even though it means I have to root for the Dolphins from time to time, I’m with O’Connor:

“Here’s hoping that chip inspires Tunsil to become the best player in his draft class. He got screwed Thursday night, as in royally. He didn’t deserve to be humiliated for doing something that a lot of college kids minor in, if not major in, yet in Chicago he handled this ungodly and unscheduled mess like a grown-up.”

The NFL, on the other hand, could stand to be a bit more humiliated for its appalling choice of priorities.


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