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National Football Post

Years back, I was doing a story in a guy named Breaux Greer. He was an Olympic javelin thrower. When the conversation turned to steroids—an unavoidable topic in today’s sporting landscape— he mentioned watching Olympic sprinter Marion Jones train one day. He said Jones and her companions did sprint after sprint, after sprint. Greer said the intensity and duration of the workout is what gave him pause.

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Joe Haden
US PRESSWIREBrowns CB Joe Haden.

You know that story. Marion Jones was stripped of her medals, her credibility, her dignity, and her life. It’s because she took something that helped her. It didn’t make her fast right there on the spot. We’re not talking Jack’s magic beans that led to his instantly wondrous beanstalk.  She was already fast. Jones took THG or “The Clear,” which increases serotonin levels in the brain, which allowed her to train as hard as humanly possible.  That’s what most performance enhancing agents do: allow you to train harder and to recuperate faster than normal. In the business of excellence, athletic or otherwise, there’s little use for normal.

Naturally the news that Browns cornerback Joe Haden tested positive for a banned substance brought forth the usual righteous indignation reserved for this particular topic. Color me cynical, but I doubt anyone with an opinion on this story is all that concerned with Haden’s health. Today, there’s this inherent belief that any foreign substance diminishes one’s accomplishments, that anything stronger than caffeine is not just an unfair advantage, but a violation of some puritanical code whereby feats achieved by less than wholesome means should be stricken from the record.

Haden tested positive for Adderall, which is a central nervous system stimulant. It affects chemicals in the brain and the nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. He faces the prospect of a four game suspension. But that’s just a clerical issue. Adderall falls under the guise of an amphetamine. And that, folks, is where the drama starts.

There’s a stigma attached to such a thing, to that word: Amphetamine. In the 60’s counter culture drug parlance, they were known as “Speed,” “Uppers,”  “Bennies,” or my personal favorite “Black Beauties.” Why was Haden taking it?

Those even more cynical than me will suggest that he was covering it up for something else.

Or it may help Haden to stay focused in meetings. The professional game rewards those who can both retain and apply strands of information in fractions of a second. Perhaps Adderall gives him the energy to work out and practice as hard as he can on a regular basis. In that context, it doesn’t sound so insidious.

Here’s another context. I had a discussion with a university administrator who told me how prevalent it was for students to use stimulants—especially around exam time. Their drug of choice: Adderall, which is prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder.

College students on the path to ruin? Or doing whatever it takes to be the crown jewels in a bleak professional market?

It’s been argued that the current generation of young people—college students and twenty something athletes included—are afflicted with another a disorder more corrosive than A.D.D.: a sense of entitlement. My wife taught a course at a big ten school. One of her students explained that he couldn’t devote as much time to an assignment because he was going home for the weekend where he was “planning to hang out with his friends.” The young man wasn’t an athlete, mind you. Just a slacker doing what slackers do.

So here’s our dilemma: Do we champion the kid who ransoms everything, including his well-being to achieve? Or do we give a pass to the kid who just wants to get by in order to hang out with his friends?

There’s another option, you say? Just drink a lot of coffee and do your best?

What if your child works as hard as he can yet doesn’t get into the good school, doesn’t make the dean’s list, isn’t called back for a second interview, never gets a seat in the executive lounge, never walks the halls of power, doesn’t make it to the NFL, to the Pro Bowl, to the big, life securing contract?

All these things require hard work. That’s what I hear. That’s what we were told. That’s what we tell our kids. That’s what I’ll tell my daughter.

Hard work. Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell her.

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