Ryan Clark: shut up and shut up now

For those who caught ESPN’s drearily monotonous and yet feisty sports debate show “First Take” yesterday (Thursday February 6th), the contribution of Steelers Safety Ryan Clark will have been the most memorable section of a show that has become highly formulaic.

Thanks to the recent Superbowl being contested by two teams which are based in states where marijuana is now legalized, the issue of whether or not NFL players should be allowed to smoke marijuana (i.e. not banned for testing positive for it) has arisen as a very valid debate.  Nate Jackson, in his fascinating and tragically overlooked memoir “Slow Getting Up” raised the issue a couple of years ago, but of course now weed is for everyone, not just for medicinal purposes.  At least in some parts of the country.

Clark said:

I know guys on my team who smoke…And it’s not a situation where you think, ‘Oh, these are guys trying to be cool.’ These are guys who want to do it recreationally.

A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, ‘If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.’ Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it.

His comments echoed those of Antonio Cromartie, who earlier spoke on the NFL’s ineffective drug testing policies.

Now Clark and Cromartie, just as Jackson before them, are completely justified in their opinions.  Marijuana should be allowed in the NFL, if only for medicinal purposes.  It’s ridiculous that it isn’t, particularly given that you can be prescribed it.  These guys put their bodies through a lot.  Clark reported that his wife often is awoken at night by the pained noises he makes in his sleep after a game.  And he plays in a position where it is easier for guys to take care of themselves – comparatively speaking.  Of course, he is also 34 years old and just finished his twelfth season and completed his 827th NFL tackle.  We also shouldn’t forget what happened to him (not to mention what nearly happened to him) in Denver in 2007.  So he has put his body through a lot.  He claims not to smoke marijuana but has yet to explain what his pain control practices are.

Clark appeared on the Colin Cowherd show this morning (hosted by Ian O’Connor) and was asked how many of his team-mates smoked marijuana.  He fumbled round an answer, stating that he thought that 1/3 of the league smoked weed.

And therein lies the problem.

Ryan Clark is still an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He enters unrestricted free agency this off season, but for the time being, he still appears on ESPN as “Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark.”  And he needs to shut up about the off-field pursuits of his teammates.

Ryan Clark will undoubtedly be one of the better analysts when he eventually signs a contract with ESPN.  He has been very clever in planning his post-NFL career.  His comments are insightful and considered.  Contrast with the utter disaster that was Ray Lewis’s signing – Lewis rarely offering anything more than garbled nonsense and modified pre-game rhetoric to shows he appeared on.  Great player, a guy you hated on the opposition, but one who you now hate on your TV because he offers nothing.  He can learn, of course.  Clark, on the other hand, is ready now.

In 2006, the Steelers committed $7 million to Clark.  In 2010, it was $14 million. That is a lot of money to pay someone to have them turn around as soon as the final season of their contract is up and start telling the world about how players on the team are consuming drugs that would see them fail an NFL drug test.  If the NFL, still reluctant to embrace marijuana’s new status, were to arrive at the homes of Steelers players to test them for marijuana tomorrow, would Clark pay their fines?  Serve their suspensions?

As soon as it is “former Steeler” Ryan Clark, I look forward to his insights into the past few years in Pittsburgh.  Until then, Ryan, please, shut up.