Sports Illustrated this week goes in search of the “ENDANGERED” Tyrann Mathieu, alias Honey Badger, and finds that he is very much in danger of becoming a highly compensated NFL player yet. (Even if he doesn’t play another down of college football he’s a likely third-rounder in next year’s draft.) But in his way are two high hurdles. For one, the NCAA might rule him ineligible because he appeared on some flyers for clubs in New Orleans. (Reminder: The NCAA, conferences, schools, affiliated broadcast partners and merchandisers the world over can use an athlete’s image to promote whatever, but the athlete who makes his own decisions in this regard risks being blackballed.)
For another, Mathieu is also in the grips, possibly, of — gosh, it hurts to write. Let Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel tell you.
[E]verything changed for Mathieu on Aug. 10, when LSU dismissed him from the team for failing multiple drug tests; two sources close to Mathieu say the drug was marijuana. … [H]e underwent four weeks of drug rehabilitation with John Lucas in Houston before returning to school.
The path forward seems simple enough: Stop smoking, get to the NFL, enjoy the fruits of success.
Lucas would not call Mathieu a marijuana addict, but he says he treated Mathieu as if he were an addict, putting him in an inpatient recovery facility where the other 20-plus patients were addicted to Oxycontin and “mind-altering chemicals.”
“I don’t know what triggers life may bring,” says Lucas, when discussing the complexities of Mathieu’s future. “This isn’t about smoking weed, this is about what life shoots you and how you handle it without medicating your failures or medicating your success.”
Yep, Honey Badger caught the reefer madness. But Lucas is right: This isn’t about smoking weed. This whole mess is about threatening a troubled young man’s career because he smoked weed.
So, real quick, to set the record here, we’re all addicted to “mind-altering chemicals.” We spend our lives chasing them. Yours may be cocaine or opiates; more likely it’s caffeine, or alcohol, or nicotine, or the endorphins and adrenaline and serotonin our bodies release that encourage us to exercise or screw or eat or laugh or gamble or skydive. A day without mind-altering chemicals is a day that probably straight-up sucked.
As mind-altering agents go, cannabis happens to be quite popular. Nearly half of Americans admit to having smoked the stuff. A big part of that popularity is its relative harmlessness; for one, it’s less addictive than coffee. Rob Delaney may tell you otherwise, but for most people bud is about as safe as drugs get, and that includes the pharmaceuticals a doctor might prescribe Mathieu if he complained of anxiety or depression, both of which he could face with because of family issues. (This Fox Sports piece includes a thorough rundown.) His father, a former New Orleans prep football star and by all indications a man Mathieu idolizes even now, is doing time for murder. And Mathieu happens to play a game predicated on knocking the everloving shit out of people, a game in which physical abuse erodes bodies and shortens lives. If anyone on the planet should be allowed to spark up a joint without hassle it ought to be college students who play football.
Also near the top of that list: professional football players. But when a former NFL lineman estimates half of NFL players smoke up, the press frames “the problem” as having been worse in the ’80s, when nearly all players did. Still, football and weed are inseparable. Apparently the Oregon Ducks routinely get their blaze on: “It’s a team thing.” And the NFL doesn’t consider marijuana use a draft-killer anymore. It just can’t. Don Banks got this quote from a league coach: “If you knocked everyone off your board who has experimented with weed, you’d lose about 20 percent of your board, not to mention disqualify a few recent presidents.”
Lucas, for his part, comes across as a balanced, sane figure in the SI piece, a guy more interested in discussing the reasons why Mathieu would turn to drugs than in exorcising the demon weed, per se. And if Mathieu wants to get totally clean, then good on him. In purely practical terms, he should stay on the sunny side of the law, and any deeper psychological issues that he may be self-medicating probably deserve counseling. But to torpedo his football career because he sparked up is laughable — or would be, anyway, if it weren’t so pointless and cruel.