Sometimes, NASCAR looks awfully good when compared to the competition.
ESPN.com reported today that a newly negotiated National Football League drug policy will include a much higher threshold for positive marijuana tests and will reduce the punishment for failing such tests. That policy has been in the renegotiation process since 2011, with the league and NFL Players Association attempting to hammer out a new set of guidelines for the sport.
NASCAR’s substance abuse policy is ironclad by comparison. It expressly prohibits members from “using, having in their system, possessing, purchasing, selling and/or participating in the distribution of any drug that is illegal to possess, use, and/or distribute by the laws of the United States of America and/or any of its 50 states, regardless of the amount, at any time.”
The critical phrase in that policy is “regardless of the amount.” You cannot partake of banned substances – not even a little -- and hope to pass a NASCAR substance abuse test. First-time pot smokers, part-time pill poppers and full-time substance abusers are one and the same in the eyes of NASCAR, where zero tolerance is the law of the land.
Both NASCAR and the NFL enforce their respective policies in similar fashions. NASCAR issues immediate, indefinite and non-appealable suspensions for substance abuse violations. Like NASCAR’s Brian France, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also rules with an iron hand on matters of substance abuse, much to the chagrin of the NFL Players’ Association.
NFLPA president Eric Winston called the current system “un-American” recently, saying Goodell “wants to hold all the cards and be the judge, jury and executioner. We’re not going to go for (that).”
NASCAR has flirted with its own version of a player’s union, on two different occasions. In 1961, Curtis Turner and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters attempted to organize NASCAR drivers. That effort was stifled by NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., who banned Turner for life before eventually relenting after a four-year banishment.
In September of 1969, a group of NASCAR drivers formed the Professional Drivers Association, boycotting a race at Talladega Superspeedway over safety concerns and unhappiness with posted purses. Richard Petty was president of the Association, which included fellow headline drivers Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker. France busted that union, as well, bringing in substitute drivers to run the race at Talladega. While Petty and company were allowed to continue as active NASCAR drivers, there has been no identifiable talk of a drivers’ union ever since.
NASCAR is almost certainly better off without an albatross like the NFLPA around its neck. It allows the sanctioning body to draw a clear line in the sand on matters such as substance abuse and enforce it to the letter, without anyone to argue that a little bit of marijuana is an acceptable pastime for a professional athlete.
As NASCAR fans, we need not worry about our favorite driver smoking “just a little bit” of pot the night before the big race. We can also be assured that if he does, the sanctioning body will not ignore – or worse, cover up – the presence of illicit substances in that driver’s system.
Thank you, NFL. You’re making us look pretty good.