View attachment 40175 DENVER - In what might be the most high-profile drug-related suspension of the year, the NFL on Tuesday suspended the Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker for four games, for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, reportedly a stimulant.
According to some reports, Welker’s failed test could be due to his having ingested “molly” – MDMA, also known as ecstasy – at the Kentucky Derby in May. This could explain the story of the noted horse-racing devotee’s behavior at Churchill Downs. While that behavior might not be deemed particularly decadent or depraved by the general standards of the year’s biggest horse-racing event, the Derby did find Welker in upbeat spirits. Wearing a suitably outlandish outfit, and having won $50,000, Welker handed out $100 bills to strangers. (It turned out the size of his win was because of a bank error).
Welker has denied the Molly report. The Denver Post quoted him as saying, “I wouldn’t have any idea where to get a Molly, or what a Molly is. That’s a joke. I don’t do marijuana, I don’t do drugs. I don’t do any drugs. It’s a strong denial, although it was preceded by the line, “He does wonder if someone put something in his drink at the Derby.”
In any case, Welker’s official response, an email sent to the Post and reproduced in the same story, was as follows: I’m as shocked as everyone at today’s news. I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would never knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way. Anyone who has ever played a down with me, lifted a weight with me, even eaten a meal with me, knows that I focus purely on what I put in my body and on the hard work I put in year round to perform at the highest levels year-in and year-out.
To NFL fans, the Molly story may sound familiar. This is because it’s similar to that of the Dallas Cowboys’ Orlando Scandrick, who last month gave a similar excuse for testing positive for amphetamines, although his setting was a “trip to Mexico” and he blamed it on an ex-girlfriend. Obviously, what triggered Welker’s positive test isn’t yet known. It will be likely be a matter of debate – or wild speculation – for at least the next few news cycles. But in the tradition of the following tales, the Wes Welker “rolling at the Derby” story may already have entered sports folklore.
Obviously, taking a psychedelic along with a stimulant can never really be a performance-enhancing action. Right? Well, maybe. The Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis made a name for himself by, by his own admission at least, pitching a no-hitter on 12 June 1970 against the San Diego Padres while still feeling the effects of LSD … not to mention some other substances. Ellis’s version of the incident, which has been rendered into a great cartoon, includes getting batters out despite not being able to see them and a moment where, after making an unassisted putout at first base, the pitcher thinks to himself: “I just made a touchdown.”
Ellis notes that when he arrived to pitch, still feeling the effects of acid, he decided to gobble down some of the amphetamines that were omnipresent in 1970s baseball. Ellis claims the combination of drugs actually gave him a certain amount of edge during his only no-no: It was easier to pitch with the LSD because I was so used to medicating myself. That’s the way that I was dealing with the fear of failure. You know that if Dock’s pitching, he’s high. But how high is he? I pitched every game in the major leagues under the influence of drugs.
The no-hitter turned out to be the peak of Ellis’s career, and he retired in 1979. Before his death, of liver disease in 2008, he had sobered up and become a drug counselor, using his most famous and infamous moment as an introduction before sharing his battles with substance abuse and addiction. In the NFL of the 1970s and 80s, cocaine use was widespread. Perhaps most notoriously, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson would use it during games, including a 35-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1979 Super Bowl. As K Thor Jensen notes in his list of notable recreation drug use by athletes: Henderson would keep a liquid inhaler in his pants filled with a mixture of cocaine and water, which he would spray into his mouth throughout the game.
The cocaine concoction may have given Henderson a boost on the field, but it also made him more erratic both on and off it. In a 1979 loss to Washington, he lived up to his “Hollywood” nickname, mugging and waiving handkerchiefs to the camera in the middle of the game. A relatively innocent act by itself, perhaps, but it was the last straw for the Cowboys, who waived him the next week.
After brief stints with the Houston Oilers and the Miami Dolphins and a career-ending injury in 1981, Henderson’s life went into freefall. In 1983 he pleaded no contest to sexual assault and cocaine possession, eventually spending 28 months in prison and eight months in drug rehabilitation. Henderson has reportedly stayed clean for more than 30 years, during which he literally won the lottery, using the proceedings to a start a charity for underprivileged children. While Bill “Spaceman” Lee receives most of headlines for his love of marijuana – he used to tell reporters about sprinkling it on his Buckwheat pancakes – K Thor Jensen notes that his friend and Boston Red Sox team-mate Bernie Carbo was even wilder. The Red Sox eventually traded Carbo after learning he was making his own trades, tossing baseballs into the stands during batting practice … in exchange for joints.
Carbo’s greatest claim to fame, a pinch-hit three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game-tying blast that set up Carlton Fisk’s much more famous extra-innings game-winner, was fueled by drugs. Carbo admitted such in a remarkably frank 2010 interview with the Boston Globe: I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some [amphetamines], took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit.
Elsewhere in the Globe interview, Carbo claimed that when being brought through the Reds’ organization, he was provided with speed and pain medication to help survive the game’s grueling schedule. It reached the point, he said, that he never played a game between 1973 and 1980 without some sort of chemical aid.
Unfortunately, like Henderson and Ellis, the substances which may have helped Carbo’s performance in the short-term ended up hurting him in the long run. Thankfully, like Henderson and Ellis, Carbo cleaned up after his playing days. Sober for more than 15 years, he currently runs Diamond Club Ministry, a Christian evangelical organization.
We come to perhaps the most obvious example an athlete whose feats could by no means be attributed to the recreational drug use which got him in trouble. In 2009, USA Swimming suspended Michael Phelps, fresh off winning a record eight gold medals in a single Olympics in Beijing the year before, from competition for three months, after a photograph emerged of him smoking from a “marijuana pipe”. (Which is newspaper-speak for bong.) USA Swimming, in its statement explaining the ban, thankfully did not attempt to argue that Phelps’s “doping” was meant to give him an edge over his competitors: We decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and hero.
In addition, Frosted Flakes manufacturer Kellogg’s dropped him, despite the fact that Phelps’s recreational habits expanded his brand into a market incredibly receptive to the idea of consuming large amounts of sugared cereal. Phelps, of course, went on to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, where he won an 18th gold medal, a world record, and upped his total medal count to 22, also a world record. An announced retirement didn’t hold, and Phelps has returned to the pool.
While the stories mentioned above might make one think twice about which drugs can act as performance enhancers, it seems pretty safe to say that his kind of motivation and dedication probably cannot be ascribed to marijuana use.
The Guardian / September 3, 2014
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