If you somehow hadn’t heard, Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure is facing felony marijuana possession charges. This stems from a March 12 traffic stop, when a friend driving an SUV rented by Leshoure was pulled over. Leshoure, having been cited for possession earlier in the month, reportedly tried to eat the small amount of marijuana in his possession.
Yes, like in “Super Troopers.” The snozzberries taste like snozzberries:
In the wake of discovering a professional athlete’s use of marijuana, American pop culture reacts in two ways: Funyuns jokes, and rage-fueled dismissal. Either Leshoure is now a punchline, an idiot, or a combination of the two; obviously the Lions must make running back a top draft need because Leshoure’s career is over.
If you didn’t know, Leshoure was born in Dwight Correctional Center, a Illinois prison where his mother served time for multiple drug convictions. His father also did time for selling drugs, and wasn’t often around. Leshoure’s college career and entrance to the NFL is the result of incredible will, desire and effort. He overcame more adversity than then vast majority of us will ever face.
If you need proof of how much his NFL career means to him, Leshoure had the Lions’ name and logo, along with the date he was drafted, tattooed onto his forearm. He gets reminded of how far he’s come dozens of times a day.
So, how could he use that arm to smoke weed?
First, perspective. As Dave Birkett of the Freep quoted Baroda-Lake township police chief Gary Ruhl saying, he had “just enough for personal use.” This isn’t a Nate Newton situation, with enormous quantities intended for distribution—or a Charles Rogers situation, driving while intoxicated. Leshoure simply had it on him, and tried to dispose of it rather than be caught a second time in a month.
But why did he have it, again? “For personal use.” Leshoure must currently smoke marijuana on a semi-regular basis. This is a problem for two reasons: 1) without a valid MMA Patient Registry Card marijuana possession and use is against Michigan law, and 2) using drugs illegally violates the terms of his NFL employment, exposing him to punishment under those terms.
The way Rogers was chewed up and spit out by the NFL disturbed me greatly. I wrote a piece about Rogers’ last attempted comeback, where I wondered how NFL fans, media, and coaches could so easily write him off as a player and human being. Of course, Rogers relapsed several times after that, and is currently wanted by authorities. His drug addictions clearly consumed him.
However, many people—including NFL players—have had productive careers despite using marijuana. Former Ravens running back Ricky Williams rushed for 7,097 of his 10,009 career yards before multiple marijuana-related suspensions. Williams has since replaced drugs with spiritual enlightenment. If Leshoure can match that production, the Lions will be ecstatic.
A major concern for LeShoure is downtime. He was a starter for only one year in college, and is most of a full year without so much as practicing. With plenty of money in his pocket (for the first time in his life), and little to do but keep in shape, he’s got plenty of opportunity to make bad decisions—worse, he’s got few people close to him who can help him stay on the right track.
A second major concern is his family history. Obviously both his parents have been incarcerated on drug charges; addiction often runs in families. However, at the time of his drafting, David Haugh of the the Chicago Tribune reported LeShoure’s mother had been clean and sober for 15 years. Perhaps she’s the perfect person to help him put drugs aside.
All of this ignores a truth about life in the NFL: narcotic painkillers enable the supersized, super-fast action football fans are hooked on. The violent collisions of today’s massive athletes cause chronic pains and injuries that can only be blunted with heavy drugs.
In an ESPN Outside the Lines report, they quoted a Washington University study showing that NFL players are four times as likely to abuse opioid painkillers as the general population. 71 percent of NFL retirees surveyed admitted abusing painkillers during their playing days. Of those, 63 percent admitted scoring some of their pills from “nonmedical sources.”
In that piece, former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley described team assistants handing narcotic painkillers out like candy. It’s a wonder we don’t hear more stories like former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf’s: he’s been arrested twice in recent weeks for breaking into homes and stealing painkillers.
There's been a recent shift in the way NFL teams handle painkillers; former Saints Security Director Geoffrey Santini was fired for sneaking pills out of the team’s locked medical storage. But as the ESPN report said, most players hooked on narcotics aren’t getting them through official sources anyway.
So before we cast aspersions on Mikel LeShoure for using narcotic drugs, let’s keep in mind that the difference between him and many of his teammates is as thin as the thin blue line—or perhaps, a MMA Patient Registry Card. Don’t think his lapse in judgment means he’s a lackadaisical drug addict who’ll never be productive in the NFL . . . or that many productive football players aren’t drug addicts, too.