Athletes speak openly about their casual marijuana use

College football programs around the country are helping to redefine the term “higher education.”

An “ESPN article”: Wednesday put the Oregon Ducks on the hot seat, revealing the prevalence of marijuana use by its football players over the last 15 years. According to the story, former and current Ducks estimate between 40-60 percent of their teammates smoked weed. “If you’re not hurting the team, everyone’s cool with it,” former Oregon quarterback Akili Smith explained with regard to how players police themselves.

Fenuki Tupou, a former Duck and current member of the New Orleans Saints, addressed one of the reasons why college athletes smoke pot, saying, “When you’re bored, it’s not like you’re going to read a book.”

This isn’t the first time the Oregon football program has been in the national spotlight for transgressions involving marijuana. Quarterback Darron Thomas and cornerback/punt returner Cliff Harris were pulled over last June after being clocked at 118 mph.

According to the police report, the car smelled like pot, Harris’ eyes were “blown,” and when the officer asked who had marijuana in the car, Harris replied, “We smoked it all.”

Harris and Oregon are “hardly alone”: in their casual attitude in regards to marijuana. In February, four Texas Christian University football players were arrested after getting caught in a drug sting. These are only two of many similar stories that occur on college campuses around the country every year.

The NCAA’s latest drug-use survey from 2009 revealed that 22.6 percent of athletes admitted to using marijuana in the previous 12 months — football having the highest percentage at 26.7. These numbers force the question to be asked: Is anyone really surprised to find out some college students smoke weed?

College students aren’t the only one’s responsible; their views simply mirror the values of the country they were raised in. Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America behind alcohol and tobacco. Nearly 100 million Americans have used “marijuana”:, and almost 15 million have smoked it within the last month. Sixteen states, as well as Washington D.C., currently allow medical cannabis or have decriminalized marijuana in some form.

Despite all the risks of getting caught and punished for using an illegal substance, people still do it. And professional athletes are no exception. Far too often we are able to see — in both sports and society — that alcohol is a more dangerous and detrimental drug than marijuana. Look no further than Adam “Pacman” Jones or Donte Stallworth to see how devastating alcohol can be.

Pro sports used to hide behind a veil of professionalism and integrity, but the NFL, NBA and MLB have all had their own drug cultures exposed. Baseball is still reeling from the revelation of the whole steroids and performance-enhancing drug-era; it may never fully recover if forced to put asterisks on a multiple decades of records.

One NFL executive who interviewed prospects at the combine said around 70 percent confessed to smoking pot. Given marijuana’s popularity, teams could assume the player was lying if they denied ever using it. Some agents believe that teams care more about character and integrity than marijuana use, suggesting lying would be worse than admitting to smoking weed.

Most people probably wouldn’t consider marijuana to be a performance-enhancing drug. It pretty much has the opposite effect, which makes it that much more impressive when high-caliber athletes are discovered to have smoked pot. Here are three of the most famous professionals to be caught:

*Ricky Williams:* Many consider the Heisman winner and Pro Bowl running back to be synonymous with marijuana. He violated the NFL’s “substance abuse policy”: more often than most people get caught speeding.

*Michael Beasley:* He had one of the greatest freshman years ever at Kansas State and it was debated if he or Derrick Rose should be selected No. 1. Lucky for Bulls fans, Beasley has since been involved in multiple off-the-court issues, including the time he “tweeted a picture”: of his new back tattoo without first making sure his bag of pot wasn’t in the frame.

*Michael Phelps:* Can anyone ever forget the first time they saw the picture of Phelps “smoking a bong”: Phelps holds the all-time record with 14 gold medals, eight in the Beijing Olympics alone. He lost some endorsements because of the scandal, but his experience with marijuana and chlorine would make him a great spokesman for Clear Eyes.

Kevin Thornton is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kevinthorn10.