Cannabis News
  Fired Up
Posted by CN Staff on January 21, 2003 at 07:51:04 PT
By Patrick Hruby, The Washington Times 
Source: Washington Times 

NORML During his 13-year stint in the NFL, Mark Stepnoski smoked marijuana. Not very often. Not in Snoop Dogg-shaming quantities. But enough to know the real thing from oregano and enough to claim he never suffered a single deleterious side effect.

Excluding, of course, the munchies. "That wasn't a problem," Stepnoski said with a laugh. "I was one of those people who had to work to keep weight on."

Two years into retirement, the former Dallas Cowboys center is still fired up when it comes to pot only now, he's a spokesman (and presumably, a tokesman) for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington-based lobby group dedicated to marijuana policy reform.

Though Stepnoski isn't the only famous figure affiliated with NORML the group counts director Robert Altman and musician Willie Nelson as members he's the first high-profile athlete to take an active, visible role in the organization, which seeks to decriminalize and regulate marijuana use.

"I used marijuana, and it never really prevented me from attaining any of the goals that I set for myself," said the 35-year-old Stepnoski, a member of NORML's national advisory board and the group's Texas chapter. "In addition, I met many other people who also would occasionally smoke marijuana. And they certainly didn't strike me as criminals.

"I don't think that the drug is properly judged on a scientific basis. Just because marijuana is illegal, people think it's wrong. I don't agree with that."

A marijuana user for nearly two decades, Stepnoski gave money to NORML throughout his NFL career and became a lifetime member of the group in 1998. He also subscribed to High Times, a magazine for cannabis enthusiasts.

Otherwise, Stepnoski kept his interest in pot politics quiet. Marijuana is on the NFL's banned substance list, and the All-Pro center didn't want the negative attention that would come with publicly contradicting the league's anti-drug stance particularly given the substance-related legal woes of former Dallas teammates Michael Irvin and Nate Newton.

"No one knew," Stepnoski said. "The media would have had a field day with it."

After he left the Cowboys in 2001, however, Stepnoski decided to come out of what one article dubbed "the smoky closet." He gave a lengthy interview to a Dallas news weekly last October, then outlined his pro-pot views before a national television audience on Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor."

According to Howard Woolridge, executive director of Texas NORML, Stepnoski's football background makes him an ideal advocate for marijuana-law reform.

"There are tens of thousands of doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs out there who use marijuana occasionally," said Woolridge, a former police officer. "But they're not going to step out of the closet and say, 'Yeah, this is doctor so and so, head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, and by the way I smoke dope two or three times a week.' The world would fall apart.

"That's why, for us, to have a guy that's on the All-American academic team in college and was a highly successful NFL player for 13 seasons is huge. It slams into the stereotypes of the burnt-out stoner who is going to wait tables for the rest of his life."

Not everyone is as enthused. News of Stepnoski's second career touched off a flurry of hand-wringing in his hometown of Erie, Pa., and hundreds of residents polled by a local newspaper said their perception of the local football hero had been tarnished.

Though slightly more than half of the individuals surveyed said their view of Stepnoski had not changed, one response labeled him an "embarrassment" who "should be ashamed to show himself in the area." Others questioned his suitability as a role model for young athletes.

Officials at Stepnoski's high school, Cathedral Prep, are reconsidering their decision to induct the 1985 graduate into the school's athletic Hall of Fame, a ceremony scheduled to take place in March.

"There has been a lot of discussion about it," said Father Scott Jabo, Prep headmaster. "We're pleased with Mark's athletic accomplishments. But his public announcement causes some concerns with all the work we do with our students to discourage the use of marijuana."

Likewise, Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Tom Riley said Stepnoski is setting a bad example for the young.

"It's kind of sad," Riley said. "Young people look up to professional athletes. That's the reason this guy is famous and why NORML would want him as a spokesman. It's an incredibly cynical gesture, especially given that more teens now need treatment for marijuana than any other drug combined."

Riley noted that a National Institute on Drug Abuse study released this week found that children who use alcohol, marijuana or other illicit drugs in their early teen years are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders in their late 20s.

"Everybody thinks that marijuana is not that harmful, not as scary as drugs like cocaine," he said. "But in the last 10 years, a lot of studies have come out showing the damage that marijuana can cause. Talk to the people that run treatment programs. They're not going to say it's harmless."

For their part, Stepnoski and other supporters of marijuana-law reform argue that cannabis is far less addictive than nicotine and that the health risks associated with the drug are on par with those stemming from alcohol and tobacco use. As such, they believe that marijuana prohibition is not only unnecessary, but also places an unnecessary strain on law enforcement.

According to the Texas State Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, more than half of the 103,922 drug-related arrests made in the state in 2001 were for marijuana possession.

"To me, that's just a huge waste of taxpayers' money," Stepnoski said. "It's not educating people, not doing anything to reduce use. All it does is put people in jail, eat up police time, judges' time, right down the line.

"I've met a lot of people in my life who occasionally use marijuana. People who are responsible, who have jobs, who pay taxes, who raise families. Productive members of society. They shouldn't be treated like criminals."

To illustrate, Stepnoski cites his own football career. Named to a pair of All-America teams at the University of Pittsburgh, he earned two Super Bowl rings, went to five straight Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL's All-Decade second team for the 1990s impressive accomplishments for a 265-pound center who routinely squared off against much heavier defensive linemen.

Along the way, Stepnoski said, he occasionally smoked a postgame joint, the better to soothe his aching body and a creaky right knee that required six surgeries.

"As an athlete, I was very cognizant of what I was putting into my body," Stepnoski said. "That's your meal ticket. And any number of things can be responsible for you losing your job.

"Somebody might take up smoking cigarettes. It takes away their wind. Some guys drink too much. They end up in treatment. You can eat your way out of the league. I've seen guys do it. But I never had that problem with marijuana. It was all about responsible use."

As for passing the NFL's mandatory drug tests, Stepnoski said he simply refrained from smoking cannabis during the league's once-a-year testing period.

"It was very easy for me to quit," he said. "To me, that underscores that marijuana is not addictive."

Stepnoski added that while he thinks the NFL has a right to test players for marijuana use, he believes the league's anti-cannabis stance is hypocritical in light of the alcohol advertising that permeates the game.

"Every single stadium in the league had huge alcohol signs," Stepnoski said. "Most of them, tobacco also. That goes for the programs as well. Also, a lot of beer is sold at games.

"People are going to be critical about what I'm saying. But look at how many athletes endorse alcohol. Think about how many people die every year from alcohol poisoning, how many crimes are committed because of alcohol, how much domestic abuse takes place. Think about all the drunk driving, all the traffic related deaths.

"Those figures blow marijuana out of the water. And yet, no one will ever be critical of a sports figure endorsing alcohol."

Since going public with his pro-marijuana views last fall, Stepnoski has been giving interviews and making appearances across Texas. He also plans to join Woolridge in lobbying the state legislature, which NORML is campaigning to have marijuana possession downgraded from a B-class felony (like drunken driving) to a C-class felony (like driving 10 mph over the speed limit).

"Nobody in Texas this year wants to build more prisons and put more people there for nonviolent drug offenses," Woolridge said. "The question is, how fast can we back this train up and go to personal responsibility as an approach to marijuana use?"

The answer remains to be seen. While pot politics have gained mainstream acceptance in recent years New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson even campaigned on a legalization platform the movement suffered a setback in the November elections, when voters in four states rejected ballot measures that would have relaxed or done away with anti-marijuana laws.

Pot advocates also face an ongoing struggle for credibility. Many view Stepnoski and his ilk as little more than politically minded Jeff Spicolis: One hand on the voting lever, the other on a bag of Fritos.

Imagining that Stepnoski had been elected to public office, a Dallas Morning News columnist quipped that his acceptance speech would begin with "Dudes, who knew we could do it?" and that voting calls of "yea" and "nay" would be replaced with "cool!" and "totally not cool!"

"That's kind of something that just goes hand in hand with making an appearance," Stepnoski said. "I can only hope that sometime down the road marijuana is legalized like alcohol is now and that people will wonder how they ever made the mistake of trying to outlaw the stuff.

"If that can happen, then in a sense, I'll be vindicated."

Source: Washington Times (DC)
Author: Patrick Hruby, The Washington Times
Published: January 21, 2003
Copyright: 2003 News World Communications, Inc.

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O'Reilly Factor: Interview with Mark Stepnoski

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Comment #4 posted by kanabys on January 22, 2003 at 10:36:53 PT
I'm not a football fan....
but I think I now have a new hero, Mark Stepnoski!! :)

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #3 posted by freddybigbee on January 21, 2003 at 10:11:49 PT:

A cynical gesture?
"It's kind of sad," Riley said. "Young people look up to professional athletes. That's the reason this guy is famous and why NORML would want him as a spokesman. It's an incredibly cynical gesture, especially given that more teens now need treatment for marijuana than any other drug combined."

Hardly a cynical gesture. Actually an honest, courageous one. As for Riley, it's apparently a cynical gesture when he opens his mouth. Teens needing treatment? By whose judgement? What percentage of teens in "marijuana treatment" programs enlisted of their own free will? As for "any other drug combined," let's assume a slip of the tongue and that he might have meant "all other drugs combined." So what? That's only indicative of the popularity of mj relative to other drugs, which is as it should be since it's the only drug with minimal down-side. Since it is the only one that shows up well after the fact in pee-tests, it is hardly surprising that coerced "treatment" for mj is common.

Riley's comments are cynical and disingenuous. Stepnosky is an honorable man.

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by Truth on January 21, 2003 at 09:12:56 PT
Right on
Nothing more honorable than honesty. Go Mark.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #1 posted by Robbie on January 21, 2003 at 08:26:47 PT
Good for Stepnoski!
Kudos to the man for standing up for what he believes in.

As for why his hometown might not honor him? Well, that just goes to show people how the anti-drug hysteria rules people's lives.

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