Mikel Leshoure, Marijuana, Hypocrisy, and the NFL

>> 4.03.2012


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:

Deep breath.

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.


TheRealWags,  April 3, 2012 at 5:51 PM  

Great post! Thanks for sharing a level-headed approach to the situation.

Nate Washuta,  April 3, 2012 at 11:29 PM  

drugs or not, people have been calling for the Lions to draft a new RB WITHOUT EVEN SEEING THE LAST ONE WE DRAFTED /end rant

I think this is just confirmation bias at work. People haven't seen leshoure contribute and for some reason think his injury is career ending (it's not), and they see him busted for weed and say that it's the end of his career. No one is saying we should draft another DT because this means Fairley is a bust.

Brian,  April 3, 2012 at 11:53 PM  

Either Leshoure has a pot dependency problem or he thinks smoking pot is more important than football. Neither of those make a good football player. I'm not calling for his jersey, but Schwartz and the leaders of this team need to come down hard on these guys. Leshoure, and Fairley need to have a "come to jesus moment." If the 7th round pick Culbreath can't understand how smoking pot not only threatens his career but also the team, he should cut immediatly. I'm sure there are 200 other players that would love to play in the NFL that don't have his selfishness and personal baggage.

flaco,  April 4, 2012 at 3:11 AM  

Weed isn't drugs. You don't overdose on weed. You can't spend your wife's paycheck on weed. Leave the kid alone.

Carrying weed on your person while driving after having been caught in a similar situation a month ago is dumb as hell. He'll have to do a song and dance, but he'll be back and he'll be a hoss.

I don't think this is as big of a story as we're making it out to be.

Dallas,  April 4, 2012 at 5:19 AM  

Totally. The biggest reason no one is giving him any slack is because they don't even know if he's any good or not. Me, I'll take Maurice Morris's word for it and trust that whenever Mikel finally gets on the field, it'll take about 5 carries for Lions fans to magically forget all the concerns they ever had about NFL athletes using controlled substances.

Tuff Lynx,  April 4, 2012 at 9:47 AM  

Frankly, the human side of drug abuse in the NFL is a catastrophe. We ignore it as fans because it isn't out in the open and we love the violence of the game. Football satisfies an inner need to sate our violent spirits. We should never forget that Humans are the top of the food chain because we are the most successful predator on the planet.

With all that said, there is a distinct difference between smoking pot and taking pain killers. The pain killers are legal drugs that have a specific purpose. Smoking marijuana is a strictly voluntary and illegal act in most cases. The decision process in entirely different for the two.

You can justify taking pain killers as an occupational necessity. There is no way that you can say that about smoking pot. When these guys light up a blunt they are consciously choosing to break the law for their own amusement. That is a criminal mindset.

Maybe smoking pot is a victimless crime, but sometimes it is not. Nick Fairley was repeatedly speeding through a subdivision where children live and play. How different would this story be if he ran over a kid while he was high?

In the end it all comes down to people growing up and making adult decisions. Adults understand that you cannot do everything that you feel like doing. They measure whether an action is appropriate based on morality and legality. Children smoke pot.

Anonymous,  April 4, 2012 at 10:06 AM  

There's no question that pot gets treated more harshly than alcohol or prescription medicine. And the league seems more caught up in trivia like uniforms and shoes than helping players handle substance abuse.

But the Leshoure seems oblivious to what his actions are doing to his teammates. Players have a responsibility to teammates to not curse out a ref, no matter how badly he deserves it for blowing a call, because the penalty hurts everyone. He's not just going to be hurting himself when he gets penalized, he's going to hurt his teammates.

I'm also disappointed the Lions management didn't step in sooner. This latest incident is his third official incident -- he also tested positive in college:


Even if the rules are out of proportion, the Lions need to make sure the players are following them, and after he was stopped for driving 92 mph in February with pot in the car, management needed to step up. There are limits to what they can do, but there never should have been a 3rd violation.

John Weeast,  April 4, 2012 at 11:07 AM  

Painkillers and Marijuana are not even close to the same thing. Pk's are addictive while marijuana is not. He wasn't caught because he'd dependent on weed, he was caught because he thought he could get away with it. Its an immaturity issue, not a medical issue.

CRog never had the work ethic to make it. After he was cut, and rightly so by the Lions after not rehabbing and getting caught repeatedly for drug violations, he failed to keep in shape. One year out of the league can make it hard to come back - multiple years, impossible. Big Mike did the work to come back. CRog never took it seriously. And you don't have unlimited tries to make it at the top level.

Leshoure, Culbreath and Fairley are immature. They're not going to get tossed after one incident. But they better learn quickly that they can easily be replaced. They need to make the change. We don't have to change our view of them for them to be successful. They need to grow up.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  April 4, 2012 at 11:14 AM  

Painkillers and marijuana are quite close to the same thing, since marijuana IS a painkiller, and can be legally prescribed as such in this state.

You're right that Rogers didn't have the work ethic to overcome his circumstances; don't forget those circumstances included two almost-entirely lost seasons where--again--Rogers had almost unlimited time and money to pursue his recreational activities.

You say this:

"We don't have to change our view of them for them to be successful. They need to grow up."

And I agree.

All I'm saying is, don't equate marijuana use with an inability to be successful. In my mind there is a MASSIVE difference between LeShoure getting caught holding, and Fairley driving erratically through a neighborhood while high.


Flamekeeper_Ty,  April 4, 2012 at 11:21 AM  

I agree with a lot of what you say, especially as regards Fairley. As I said in reply to John Weeast, what Fairley did and what LeShoure did are HUGELY different.

If LeShoure hadn't gone Super Troopers and eaten the weed, it's likely we'd never have found out about this; his friend would have gotten a ticket for following too closely and it'd be over. What Fairley did was reckless and awful and completely indefensible.

You say:

"You can justify taking pain killers as an occupational necessity. There is no way that you can say that about smoking pot."

. . . and I agree. However, the result of this is that most guys in the NFL scoring painkillers are doing just that: scoring painkillers on the street, online, or through a crooked non-team doc. That's all exactly as illegal as getting weed.

Worse, some of these players are leaving the NFL with a nasty Oxycodone habit and no legal source, leaving them just as broken and desperate as Charles Rogers.

Contrariwise, in this state, marijuana can be prescribed as a painkiller, possessed legally, and used as such by productive members of society.

It's not the substance, it's the abuse.


Flamekeeper_Ty,  April 4, 2012 at 11:25 AM  

I think you underestimate how many college football players . . . and college students in general . . . smoke weed. Going from that Big Man on Campus Life to the real world can be a hard transition, even if you AREN'T a poor disadvantaged kid with newfound millions to burn.


Flamekeeper_Ty,  April 4, 2012 at 11:25 AM  

Bingo. Well said.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  April 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM  

Yup. Everyone who saw LeShoure run last summer said he was jawdroppingly good.

Lewand,  April 4, 2012 at 4:47 PM  

Simple (or not so) question: what if an individual citizen of this free country decides that smoking marijuana is an "occupational necessity," particularly if he/she is choosing marijuana over opiate-based pain killers?

Brian,  April 5, 2012 at 11:26 PM  

I'm not underestimating who smokes pot in college. I don't understand what this has to do with how many people smoke in college. This has to do with people in the NFL. When players transition to the NFL, it's very clear to the them the consequences for a failed drug test. It doesn't just hurt your career and public perception, but most importantly the team. He knows the ramifications of failed drug tests and does it anyway. I suspect Leshoure has a problem that goes beyond casual smoking. Unless he goes into treatment, expect Leshoure to have another failed test within the next year.

Denham,  April 6, 2012 at 12:21 PM  

Very nice write up Ty. I'm 21 and a junior in college and coming from a broken family with father issues you have to work like hell not to relapse or give into peer pressure. If this becomes a pattern then maybe we can discuss this further but he's human guys.. The fact that you a discussing is brewing on POD about cutting him is disgusting. He looked great last offseason! I do think dude needs to have some people in his life who keep him accountable but besides that I'm not too worried about all of this. Nice to hear something like this Ty, and not some scolding rant.

Denham,  April 6, 2012 at 12:23 PM  

Very nice write up Ty. I'm 21 and a junior in college and coming from a broken family with father issues you have to work like hell not to relapse or give into peer pressure. If this becomes a pattern then maybe we can discuss this further but he's human guys.. The fact that you a discussing is brewing on POD about cutting him is disgusting. He looked great last offseason! I do think dude needs to have some people in his life who keep him accountable but besides that I'm not too worried about all of this. Nice to hear something like this Ty, and not some scolding rant.

jhnhth,  April 9, 2012 at 5:26 PM  

Minor point, but I think it's important to recognize the distinction between opiates and marijuana. Although marijuana is often categorized as a narcotic, I believe this is inaccurate, as marijuana is pharmacologically distinct from opiates. While marijuana can certainly be habit-forming, it has none of the physically addictive properties that make narcotics like heroin and other opiates so debilitating. Marijuana use is common among the general population, especially in Leshoure's age group, and I don't think it's an indication he is or is going to be a problem for the Lions. He just needs to lay off the weed from training camp until the end of the (post) season, and he'll be fine.

kitchen pantry storage cabinet,  March 11, 2013 at 6:03 AM  

It's quite impressive.

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