Last Friday, Josh Howard of the Dallas Mavericks admitted on Michael Irvin's radio show to smoking pot during the NBA off-season.
Seconds later, the relevant parties were notified and the story was the top headline on ESPN.com.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban said the team would deal with the issue internally. Head coach Avery Johnson expressed that Howard's comments demonstrated "poor judgement and poor timing." Sources close to ESPN pointed out that while Howard would most likely not be suspended for his remarks, that he would probably be required to enter into the NBA's marijuana program—which includes more frequent drug testing and counseling during the off-season.
Josh Howard, meanwhile, went out to play some Friday night hoops in front of a raucous Dallas crowd. With a little help from the refs, the Mavs managed to win their first (and likely only) victory in their series against Chris Paul and the deadly Hornets.
Apparently the win caused Howard to reflect upon the mess he created, as yesterday he released this statement on his website:
"I recently talked about a controversial topic with members of the media. I used poor judgment and I want to apologize to my fans, the Mavericks and the NBA. I am fortunate to be playing basketball in the League. I realize I have a responsibility as a role model for young fans, and I take that responsibility seriously."
America can now sleep easy—Josh Howard is a moral man and regrets that he openly discussed a topic on public radio that could negatively influence children who look up to him.
But for at least one 25-year old hoops fan watching this unfold from his San Francisco office, Howard's morality was obvious well before Sunday.
When asked before gametime on Friday why he wanted to discuss marijuana on a sports-radio talk show, Josh Howard said:
"I was raised on being truthful and honest with myself and my family, so I can say it with no problems and go out there and perform to the best of my abilities tonight and not even think about it."
I read this quote late Friday afternoon as the controversy took shape. Am I the only one who got in Josh Howard's corner right then and there?
Let's just take this all in for a second: League officials and/or Josh Howard's PR guru want him to recognize that he's a role model for children. They want America to think of him as an honest, decent man—a walking endorsement for the NBA.
So instead of encouraging him to discuss his life as an athlete, his values as a person, and his opinion on a controversial league issue, they instead coerce him into telling a bald-faced lie so that parents across the nation can kid themselves into thinking that their children are now safe from danger.
Josh Howard 1, League Officials 0, American Public -10.
We all know that Josh Howard isn't sorry for what he said. Nor should he be.
I could go on a rant about how the league has no business testing for marijuana in the first place, as it's a drug that if anything decreases performance on the court.
But I won't.
Instead, what I'll say is this: Josh Howard ought to follow his instincts more frequently.
During a time when multiple professional athletes are being investigated for lying under oath, an honest guy like Josh Howard is a breath of fresh air.
I don't know Josh Howard personally and I'm not pretending to vouch for his character. But I do know that he conducted himself in a classy manner in this instance—well before he read that pre-typed apology.
You may or may not agree with Josh Howard's fondness for puffing the whacky tobaccy—that's your choice as an American. Josh Howard's an American just like you, and as such has the ability to make his own choices as well.
He chose to smoke marijuana, knowing the potential legal and health risks in play. He also made the choice to talk about this fact publicly, and as such will have to live with the consequences.
But like any prideful person, Josh Howard isn't afraid of who he is and will always opt for the truth when in doubt. That in itself is an admirable characteristic that every athlete—and more importantly, every role model—ought to follow.
For a second there, we didn't just have another athlete trying to win favor with the media and fans. Rather, we had a shining example of a young man who demonstrated the characteristics we as people value in each other as human beings—dignity, honesty, and imperfection.
If we as a society could embrace these values in our athletes rather than clinging to sugar-coated idealism, perhaps Josh Howard could show his true colors more often. Instead, he's being taught that his public image and the league's opinion of him are more important than telling the truth.
That surely isn't the message we want to send to our children. Perhaps next time around, we should allow Josh Howard to decide for himself what a good role model really is.
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