During this time of the year, there is a lot to be excited about: the cool fall breeze, colorful leaves soon to blanket the ground, apple cider donuts and – you may have guessed it – the start of football and basketball seasons. A great source of this excitement about sports may very well be the prospect of new and traded players playing on teams. Many are familiar with discussions about who should and who should not be on this or that team. Each discussion, or some of them at least, are backed with sound explanations detailing the unfair advantage one team has over another. Bringing up unfair advantages, however, seems to be just about the extent of this protest. Far fewer people are protesting a player’s position on a team for reasons centered around a bad personal background (history of drugs, violence, etc.). With that being said, the question returns to whether or not sports teams should accept players with such a history. After all, how much does it really matter what a player does when off the job? I would argue that it matters quite a bit. It matters, primarily, because it is putting the player in a difficult position.
A sports team accepting a player with a history of substance abuse is, ultimately, doing a disservice to the player. While the player may have everything straightened out, there is still a chance of him or her going back to drugs. Continuing to join sports teams, namely professional ones, offers more money and therefore more opportunity to get involved with drugs again. Some may argue that this is unlikely, but studies have shown that this is not the case. Rajita Sinha from the Yale University School of Medicine points out studies finding that more than 85 percent of people who had once used drugs relapse within one year of recovery. It is important to note that these studies were based on the general public, which consists of people who generally do not have the money and opportunity that comes with being a professional athlete. It is clear with this that letting an athlete with a history of a substance onto a team is very risky. The player (again, with more money and opportunity) may be more tempted to relapse. One can only imagine how hard it would be, constantly choosing between a successful career and drugs. It is certainly a “difficult position” to be in. The best thing to do, therefore, is to make sure drugs are completely out of the equation before adding all that comes with being a professional athlete.
Now, this is not to say that athletes with such a history should not be accepted onto a team ever again. They have certainly worked hard to get to the place where they are and should, by all means, be able to move forward. It is important, however, that teams be very careful about letting them onto the team. Being careful would mean making sure the player has been away from drugs for at least a year. In addition to this, services should be offered every step of the way to ensure that the athlete is making progress and staying well in the meantime. This could mean doing something as simple as providing for his/her basic needs and allowing for engagement with team activities such as training. Doing this would keep the player busy and consistently on track while withholding full membership on the team. It would be a lot more helpful than simply brushing the player away. Other things, of course, can and should be done but this should be the very least of it.
As long as the aforementioned measures are taken, all should be well for the athletes, teams and even those sitting at home watching the games. There is much to be excited about, much to see and much to discuss this fall. The only thing one should be gently falling back into is this wonderful season.