‘Reefer Madness’ redux in Eugene

In case you haven’t been paying attention — maybe you’ve been lost in a haze — a whole bunch of people got quite a buzz this week over a magazine story alleging, among other things, that “40 to 60 percent” of Oregon Duck football players smoke pot.

When I first heard that figure — and then pondered the program’s three straight BCS appearances — I practically shouted, “I want some of that stuff, too!”

And then I read ESPN The Magazine’s piece and came away with a different conclusion.  Hate to the spoil the party, boys and girls, but this “expose” lacks, well, much potency.

Oh, reporter Sam Alipour’s article is well written and a talker. It certainly reiterates some basic truths. Like many college students, whether they are football players or not, are bound to smoke a joint sooner or later. Like the leafy drug has permeated much of society. Like Eugene has a counterculture history.

And the story features some interesting if not humorous quotes. Got to love this one from former Oregon running back Reuben Droughns: “Where there’s hippies, there’s weed.”

But where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire.

From Video

Oregon legend Reuben Droughns was quoted in ESPN's article, but immediately cried foul that his statements were taken out of context

The story on the Oregon program, which accompanies a larger article about marijuana in college football, implies drug use among the Duck football players is so rampant, so widespread, that “group smokes” are an unofficial team activity and that players follow a coded system to escape detection.

Smell test, anyone?

I’ll start with the obvious counter: Oregon’s rise to national prominence in a sport that requires laser-like focus and superb reaction time for virtually every moment in every game. Here’s another: the level of conditioning required to carry out the team’s hurry-up style of play.

It’s hard to reconcile all that energy and attention to detail with the image of the dazed and confused.

“If we had that many kids doing it, we wouldn’t be 34-6 (for the last three seasons),” coach Chip Kelly said Thursday, the day after the story was released online. “We win because of how hard we practice, and I see our kids every day in practice.”

One of the big holes in the piece is that it never clarifies how frequently Duck players are allegedly smoking pot. Is it once a day? Once a week? A month? A year? Are they doing it during football season? The morning or night before a game?

It matters. If the “40 to 60 percent” includes players who only imbibe during a summer party, then that doesn’t mesh with the angle ESPN The Magazine’s is pushing.

The story is sourced, sure, but none of those identified — including Onterrio Smith of “Original Whizzinator” fame — have donned a Duck uniform for several years.

Alipour’s main source is an unidentified Duck player who apparently is still on the team. “Some of us smoke, and then we went out and won the Rose Bowl,” the player is quoted as saying.

The fact the player was stoned when interviewed apparently didn’t raise red flags for the magazine’s editors. Guess a guy draining cups of beer next to a keg in a frat house basement would have been fair game, too.

Much of the rest of the article relies on predictable stereotypes.

Yes, the Grateful Dead played concerts at Autzen Stadium. They played lots of concerts elsewhere too...

Eugene is described as the state’s “cannabis capital” and a hamlet where lighting up is as much a part of daily life as eating breakfast.

“Here, everybody smokes,” states an unidentified “student-dealer,’ who just happens to live on the city’s High Street.

To further that notion — and in an obvious attempt to drag the football program in — the magazine cites as a “telltale” sign the fact that the Grateful Dead played Autzen Stadium in the early 1990s, without noting the band made virtually every city in the country a stop for three decades.

Yes, there is an unmistakable counterculture feel to the town and to the University of Oregon. There has been for decades now. Just as you’ll also find in Berkeley and Boulder.

What ESPN The Magazine fails to point out, however, is that Eugene has long been a sports haven, too. And it was that way long before the 1960s unfolded. And long since.

But that would have gotten in the way, wouldn’t it, of this story.

Got to wonder sometimes who’s living in a haze.


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