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My Turn: Athlete examples cloud drug message

Posted: Wednesday, February 02, 2005

This past Thursday several hundred parents, myself included, proudly watched our children as they walked across the stage at Centennial Hall in celebration of the culmination of the fifth-grade D.A.R.E. class.

Each guest speaker had a message for the kids: "Choose to live," "Be smart, don't start," and the most ironic one of all - "Don't let drugs ruin your life!"

Through the D.A.R.E. program, our children have been taught that abusing drugs and alcohol will ruin their health, their relationships, and their lives. But what D.A.R.E. failed to say is that it depends on who you are. Now, before you start with the death threats, please read on.

Last week, a Baltimore Ravens football player was sentenced on a drug charge that occurred 4½ years ago. Convicted of conspiring to purchase cocaine through the use of his cell phone, he must now pay a fine (which will take him all of 10 minutes of game time to earn back), do some community service (easily completed in each town he travels to), and serve a whole four months in jail. Ironically, in a deal reached between the prosecution and the defense, he will serve his jail sentence and be out in time to start training camp. How have drugs ruined his life?

A decade ago, several players from the Dallas Cowboys were charged with drug possession. One is now a highly paid sports commentator. He has kept his wife, his houses, his cars and his jewelry. Again I ask, how have drugs ruined his life?

Now I realize that there are hundreds of thousands of people on whom drugs had a devastating effect, but my children don't. What they do see are their sports idols, their heroes, abusing drugs with little, if any, consequence.

As I thought about this, I experienced a disturbing epiphany. I am to blame for this. I, as a consumer, am a supporter of drug abuse. When I lived in the Lower 48, I paid for over-priced tickets to football and baseball games. I have purchased merchandise endorsed by professional athletes. Even now, in Alaska, I support their salaries and thus their drug habits because I subscribe to cable in order to watch the games.

How do I stop this? I don't know that I can. One of my good friends has an idea: Stop paying athletes obscenely high salaries. Instead, use the billions of dollars generated by professional sports to fund school districts and raise teachers' salaries. For that matter, use it to fund police departments, border patrols, and drug programs. Use the money where it will be appreciated, where it will do some good.

Here is another idea, maybe one that doesn't require us to live in Utopia. Let us take a page from the book of Olympic regulations. There, if you test positive, you are banned from the Olympics for life. No second chances, no redemption. Since the players are incapable of policing themselves, perhaps it is time for teams and league organizations to do it for them.

Granted, major league baseball is now instituting stricter penalites for those that fail their drug tests. I don't think it is enough. I say they should take it a step further. If you fail one drug test, you are out, end of story. You are convicted on a drug charge, and you are out. Make them repay their salaries and their bonuses, not to the team, but to anti-drug campaigns. Send the right message to my children - drugs ruin your life, no matter who you are.

• Cassandra Butz is a Juneau resident working as a receptionist for the U.S. Forest Service.



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