There’s always drama in sports news and it’s typically centered around the athletes. From Tiger Woods’ multiple lovers to Calvin Johnson’s sudden retirement in 2016, news agencies love a sports scandal. One of the more innocuous “scandals” have been repeated positive tests or law enforcement arrests connected to marijuana. As we’ve shown in the past, sports and weed are pretty closely related. Despite pot being a banned or discouraged substance in most professional leagues from basketball to hockey, it’s pretty easy for athletes to get away with weed. Well, sort of. While some leagues rightly turn a blind eye to positive testing, there’s still the issue of legality. If you’re reading this you know it’s stupid that marijuana is illegal anywhere, but that doesn’t stop archaic laws from being enforced. Until recently, the majority of host cities for professional teams didn’t allow it recreationally and few had medical programs. It sucks and isn’t stopping anyone from getting a hold of their weed, especially not athletes with millions of dollars at their disposal. In light of this fact, we’ve collected the five most infamous athlete weed busts.
Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, who vaulted to international stardom during the 2008 Summer Olympics by winning a record eight gold medals in swimming, faced controversy just a year later when a report by former British paper News of the World showed a photo of Phelps smoking from a bong. No big deal right? Think again. The sport’s national governing body also cut off his financial support for three months just because of a side angle picture. While it was definitely him it seems quite harsh given he was only seen once with a bong and there’s no concrete evidence he did anything. The alleged photo was taken at the University of South Carolina where Phelps was visiting a female student he was secretly seeing. The anonymous sources that leaked the photo claim Phelps partied hard each night he was there. News of the World also makes the very provocative claim that people representing Phelps tried to snuff out the story and offered the paper extraordinary incentives not to publish. In a quote about the incident, USA Swimming said, “This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but 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 a hero,” the Colorado Springs-based federation said in a statement. What a load of horseshit.
Allen Iverson won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and was arrested and charged with drug and firearms possession by Virginia state police in August of 1997. Iverson, the legendary guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, was a passenger in a car that was stopped past 1 a.m. for speeding just outside Richmond, Virginia. According to reports, the car was going 93 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone and when the trooper stopped the car it smelled of marijuana and initiated the search. The state troopers also found a .45-caliber pistol on the floor mat in front of Iverson’s seat. Iverson confessed to the gun and was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of firearms with a controlled substance. He would eventually plead no contest to the gun charge and the weed charges were dropped. This wasn’t the last time his name swirled around in athlete weed mythology. Earlier this year, rapper 2 Chainz released his album Rap or Go To The League which featured a song called “Statute of Limitations”. On that track, while listing other celebrities he sold weed to back in the day, the man formerly known as Tity Boi claims, “Anytime the Sixers played the Hawks I seen Chuck”. Chuck was one of Iverson’s nicknames and 2 Chainz is claiming he was a frequent weed buyer on his trips down to Atlanta. Is it true? Probably. You should always believe 2 Chainz.
Ricky Williams was the poster child for the National Football League’s long-running Reefer Madness approach to dealing with players who smoke marijuana. He was labeled a slacker by sports pundits and ruthlessly criticized in the media. Williams was drafted by the New Orleans Saints fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft and spent three seasons with the team before he was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002. He played for the Dolphins for two seasons and retired for the first time from football in 2004. “Back in 2004, I retired to smoke weed,” Williams says. “Well, that’s not all the way true. I retired to take better care of myself. One of those things that helped was cannabis.” His troubles didn’t end there though. Williams returned to the Dolphins for the 2005 season, but not before serving a four-game suspension and forfeiting an additional four games of pay for sparking up. This was despite the fact he ran for 743 yards and six touchdowns playing as a backup to rookie Ronnie Brown. Williams failed another drug test prior to the 2006 season. This time the NFL, by far the most strict professional sports organization with respect to weed dropped the hammer and suspended him for a year. After eventually retiring in 2009, the former Heisman Trophy winner has been candid and revealed that he likely lost around $10 million in salary and potential endorsement deals because of his marijuana use. As of 2018, Williams was back in Miami promoting his new career in the emerging legal marijuana industry there. Williams’ cannabis company, Real Wellness, partnered with Miami-based company CBDoobie to launch a line of non-psychoactive CBD joints. He says his mission is to help people with the same medicine he was demonized for and that is turning a loss into a win if I’ve ever seen one.
This is the craziest one. Most athletes get caught with small amounts of weed way below the trafficking level, but not former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton. A three-time Super Bowl champion with the dominant Cowboys of the 80s and 90s, he claims his competitive nature led him into the drug business. “I couldn’t see myself not being the biggest dope man.” Newton spent two and a half year in a Louisiana prison after multiple 2001 arrests on drug possession charges. In November 2001, he and two women were pulled over for a traffic violation in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Newton and the others were then accused of hauling 213 pounds of marijuana found in their van with plans to sell it. Two hundred and thirteen pounds is QUITE a lot of weed. Then, to make this even wilder, while out on bond six weeks later, Newton was arrested again. This time he was accused of hauling 175 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a car. Because of his already wealthy status, Newton was only sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, which is unheard of for that astronomical amount. In later interviews he estimated he made about $75,000 per drug deal, another reason he said running drugs appealed to him. Shoutout Nate Newton, the offensive lineman kingpin you never heard of.
The San Francisco Giants chose pitcher Tim Lincecum as the 10th overall in the 2006 draft out of Washington, and he instantly became the organization’s top pitching prospect since Hall of Famer Juan Marichal in 1957. A native of the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Lincecum went 15-7 with a 2.48 ERA in 32 starts in 2009, his third season in the major leagues and was set for a multimillion-dollar raise following his 2nd consecutive Cy Young Award that off-season. Because of his boyish face, shaggy dark hair, diminutive frame, and his dominance, teammates would call him “The Freak.” Before he would get that second prestigious pitching award, he also faced misdemeanor marijuana charges following a traffic stop in his home state. Washington State Patrol pulled over the former University of Washington star for speeding close to the Oregon border on October 30th of 2009. According to reports, an officer approached Lincecum’s Mercedes and smelled marijuana as the pitcher rolled down his window. He was asked to hand over the drug and a pipe visible in the car’s center console. The amount was only a dismal 3.3 grams. Lincecum eventually pled down to fines totaling $622 for the misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia counts plus the citation for driving 74 mph in a 60 mph zone. This is is impressive because of just how dominant Lincecum was at this point in his career—he would lead the Giants to a World Series the following year—and how laissez-faire the whole situation was. A spokesperson for the police department that caught him said of the event, “It’s not really out of the ordinary. It happens every day.”