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Why Legal Sports Betting is the Same as Allowing Athletes to Smoke Pot

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Photo Credit: iStock

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver supposedly made significant news last week when he wrote in The New York Times that states should be allowed to authorize gambling on pro sports.

But here’s what would have been a much more revolutionary and forward-thinking step for the commissioner to advocate: let players use marijuana if they choose.

After all, Denver already has an NBA franchise in a state where marijuana is legal. Next year, Portland’s NBA team will play in a state where marijuana is legal (Alas for ex-Trail Blazers Qyntel Woods, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph, the change in marijuana laws didn’t take effect before their assorted legal run-ins over marijuana). 

And another dozen NBA teams play in states and DC where medical marijuana is legal.

When Silver opined in his piece for The Times that “despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread” and that “I believe sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated,” it’s painfully easy to substitute the words “marijuana use” for the phrase “sports betting.” 

And yet Silver and all the poobahs in pro sports would recoil at any suggestion of allowing grown men in their leagues to use marijuana without penalty. 

Why? Of course there’s the “integrity of the game” argument. But that seems silly when you consider that Babe Ruth getting snockered more often during Prohibition than Zelda Fitzgerald didn’t do any damage to baseball. 

And really, unlike steroids, it’s hard to imagine pro athletes gaining any advantage that would destroy a sport’s integrity if they use marijuana. Ultimately, pro athletes are judged on their performance.

If they can still perform on the court while using marijuana – which I repeat will be legal next year in Portland – who are we to judge if some Trail Blazer wants to use a legal product just as he would drink alcohol after a game to wind down. Or in the case of Washington – another state with legalized marijuana – if some Seahawk or Mariner wants to do the same.

Then of course, there’s the “athletes should be role models” argument. That’s of course impossible to hear with a straight face any longer when all too many athletes are accused of abusing both their partners and their children.

So why does Silver come out in favor of legalized betting on pro sports? Because there’s a lot of money in all those illegal wagers and fantasy leagues that the NBA would like to taste.

And here’s one sure bet: Even as the NBA and all pro sports leagues vacuum up billions from TV deals, merchandise and luxury box revenues, their appetite for more money streams is as insatiable as a marijuana user’s munchies.

Before folks go patting Silver on the back too much for “stepping out” and being “forward thinking” by recognizing that betting has become so widespread that it should be legal, ask why he and other league commissioners don’t recognize the same is true for marijuana.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.


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