DALLAS — Blaming Colorado for the nation’s drug problem is absurd, and heckling an innocent kid over his state’s political policies is cruel, which is why Mike Jeffcoat is out of a job.
The former major-league relief pitcher was fired as head baseball coach at Fort Worth’s Texas Wesleyan University after he sent a bizarre response to a high school senior in Aurora, Colo., who had expressed respectful interest in the program.
“We are not recruiting players from the state of Colorado,” Jeffcoat e-mailed 18-year-old Gavin Bell. “In the past, players have had trouble passing our drug test. We have made a decision to not take a chance on student-athletes from your state. You can thank your liberal politicians. Best of luck wherever you decide to play.”
The reference was clearly to Colorado’s liberal marijuana laws, which permit legal sales and possession of cannabis products. To date, 19 states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.
Bell shared this startling message with his coaches and teachers, and the exchange went viral. TWU authorities fired Bell, making him approximately the 100 millionth American to learn the hard way that foolish or offensive e-mails and social media posts will come back to bite you.
TWU President Fred Slabach announced at a news conference that Jeffcoat “is no longer an employee … due to the discriminatory remarks contained in an email to a potential recruit from the state of Colorado,” as well as to an unrelated possible violation of player eligibility rules.
“My intention wasn’t trying to get this guy fired,” said Gavin, who really does seem like an awfully nice kid, in an interview with a Denver television station. “My intention was just to try to play baseball.”
TWU didn’t respond when I e-mailed to ask whether it really has had an abundance of Colorado recruits flunking drug tests. They’re justifiably ready for this viral episode to exhaust its 15 minutes; Coloradans and their “liberal politicians” will no doubt make a full recovery as well.
What really struck me about the Jeffcoat imbroglio, though, was that it illustrates our utter inability to understand or address our nation’s deeply destructive drug problem.
Perhaps it’s because the scourge is so widespread that no one in authority can seem to get beyond the margins, obsessing on one sub-issue at a time. While we have all been hyper-focused on opioid addictions to prescription painkillers and street drugs, there has reportedly been a furious resurgence in the prevalence of methamphetamines.
While this country wages war on south-of-the-border cartels, cheap new synthetics are pouring in from underground labs in China. While we bicker over whether Grandpa should be able to buy pot brownies to relieve his sciatica, legions of Americans know how to obtain illegal and unregulated drugs with the ease of buying a candy bar. We recognize the futility of imprisoning people for simple drug offenses, but we’re chronically short of treatment options.
We waste millions on testing employees in every sector for minor marijuana use. Yet some industries say they’re recruiting refugees from other countries because too many U.S. citizens flunk screenings for deadly drugs like heroin and meth.
We just don’t have enough fingers to poke in all these holes. And we lack a sense of proportion about which problems demand the most urgency. I’m no expert, but I doubt Colorado’s pot policy ranks at the top of the list.
It should be noted that Jeffcoat’s perspective might cost him some seriously valuable recruits. If current-day MLB greats Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper or Joey Gallo were just starting out today, Jeffcoat would give them a pass: All three are from Nevada, which allows recreational marijuana use. Washington, Colorado, Oregon and other states manage to balance legalized pot with valuable professional sports franchises and robust college programs.
Reducing drug use to a simple binomial screening test — yes or no, pass or fail — completely ignores the complexities of this issue: which substances we can or cannot trust adults to use responsibly; why some treatments methods are more effective than others; the money involved in illegal drug sales; our inconsistent attitude toward alcohol and other intoxicants.
Most of all, we are getting nowhere on addressing the biggest question of all: Why do so many Americans crave escape from their everyday lives? That’s the question that underlies every overdose death, every cartel murder, every crooked doctor rung up for running a pill mill.
These are hard issues, and its sometimes seems that we — all of us, media included — do little besides talking in circles.
Drugs, in this country, have become as intractable and complex an issue as guns. Examining either through a lens of politics, rather than science or social policy or plain good sense, makes it all so much worse. And it leads some people, like the unfortunate former baseball coach, to make fools of themselves.
There are lot of reasons drugs are an appalling scourge affecting everyone from gang-plagued urban neighborhoods to desperate small towns where the good jobs are all gone and, yes, to athletes.
But I think we can let Colorado off the hook.