Saturday, April 19, 2008

A dissenting opinion

I have taken a week to collect my thoughts on the drug testing issue in NASCAR. Before I begin my rant, I must remind the reader that the opinion expressed here does not neccessarily reflect the opinion of all or any of the associate editors at NASCAR Bloggers FT Digest. It is soley my own. I do not advocate the use of drugs in any manner in any sport, professional or amateur.

My first thought is “what has become of the presumption ‘innocence until proven guilty?’”Any mandantory drug testing is based on the presumption of “guilty until proven innocent.”
Testing a person for drugs without probable cause is the equivalent of giving a person a ticket for jaywalking if he happens to be walking down the sidewalk. The pedestrian hasn’t crossed the street illegally, but he could, if he wanted to, so just fine him for something he didn’t do, but may intend to. A driver in NASCAR may have never, in his or her entire life, used substances that would impair his reactions, attention, or abilities to compete in a race, but because we are talking about a living, breathing, human being, there is always the possibility that the person could use drugs.

Granted, the laws against search and seizure without probable cause are only to protect the citizens of this country from the government, and do not apply to businesses and organizations such as NASCAR, but one would think that the presumption of innocence is more important to the state of freedom and well-being, than the paranoid presumption that everybody is doing something wrong, but just hasn’t been caught yet.

The point has often been made that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about, but that point is made without considering the psychological effect of not being trusted to have a basic knowledge of right and wrong. There is something rebellious in human nature that suggests, “if they think I am doing something wrong, I may as well do something wrong.”

That is not to say that one would react to the accusation of substance abuse by using illicit substances, but one may react by, for instance, running another car into the wall under the auspices of retaliation. Most of us have experienced the feeling of being accused of something that we haven’t done or ever had any intention of doing. It is not a good feeling; in fact, it is an emotionally painful feeling. We all want to be trusted.

The drivers in NASCAR are professionals. Unless they are caught in the emotional heat of the moment after a wreck, they do exercise immaculate personal responsibility. It is not only a matter of being competitive to them, but a matter of self-preservation. If a driver likes to drink beer, for example, he will make it a point to forego beer, beginning Wednesday night, and begin the process of hydrating and working out for the race Sunday. If the driver did not practice this regiman, he would undoubtably get sick, or lose the required attention skills it takes to race competively and safely. That is what personal responsibility is all about.

NASCAR’s present policy of testing only when there is probable cause isn’t only fair, it is safe. Shane Hmeil was caught under that policy, and Tim Richmond, though he had actually stopped using the drugs neccessary to prolong his life, was banned from racing because he was physically unable to race safely, as a result of NASCAR’s probable cause policy.

Tyler Walker and Aaron Fyke seemed to have slipped through the cracks of this policy, because they were caught by the police, and not by NASCAR. But they were caught, and were taken out of the mix before their drug use resulted in tragedy on the track. It will never be proven that either one of them was under the influence of an illicit substance while they were racing.

You could argue that Fyke said that he did take heroin on the same day he raced last year, when he finished in the top ten of a truck race. Yes he said it, but if he had actually done it, he would have been caught. If you have ever been around a heroin addict, you would know what I mean. If he wasn’t nodding off, his speech would have been slurred, his eyes would have been darting constantly, and his stride would have been unsteady, as if he were drunk. If he were allowed to climb, exhibiting those symptoms, into the racecar, he would have fallen on his butt trying to climb in through the window. He would not have made it past the first turn, much less finish in the top ten. Even if he were not under the influence, and was going through withdrawal, he would have been sweating much more profusely than anyone else around him, he would have been showing visible signs of stomach cramps, and there would have been an unmistakable oder about him, even if he hadn’t defecated in his firesuit because of the loss of control of bodily functions. And no, I am not describing Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen, two years ago–Fyke’s symptoms would have raised a red flag for anyone around him if what he said were true.

And I would rather call one person a liar, from what I know, than accepting what he said as the truth, and therefore having to consider everyone else a liar.

NASCAR’s current policy is not broken, so it doesn’t need to be fixed. However, one thing I would like to see encouraged, because over the counter remedies could also cause judgement problems–even if they sponsor a race or a group of teams–is that if a driver is so sick with the flu or a cold that he has to take medication, he should be replaced for the event. This would also be a matter of personal responsibility, and should be voluntary. Hopefully, that idea will catch on.

Cross posted from NASCAR Bloggers FT Digest, by the author


Marc said...

Dissent all you care to, in fact it was an interesting read 'til I reached this part:

"...but that point is made without considering the psychological effect of not being trusted to have a basic knowledge of right and wrong.

As a 20 year Navy vet, in a navy that started mandatory testing in the very early eighties, and who spent 10 of those years as various commands chief drug & alcohol councilor i can that assertion pure, unadulterated horse manure.

I never saw anything or anyone CLOSE to having "psychological effects" for not being trusted.

In fact, it's just the reverse, moral, professionalism and performance all went sky high once the navy was rid of the druggies and malcontents left over from the days of Carter as those that proceeded him.

Random drug testing worked to clean up a very bad and dangerous situation than, and continues to keep it clean now.

Rev, I stopped reading after that passage, you're watching too much Dr. Phil. Or something, whatever it is, your far off the tracks.

RevJim said...

I was in the Air Force from 1976 until 1982, and we had drug testing even before 1980. I saw first hand the policy's effect on improving moral and professionalism, and it was a positive effect. But when one signs up for military service, we expect to give up our rights as citizens, because our mindset is all about the Mission. Being considered guily until proben innocent was irrelevant to military service.
I am sure that drug testing ould bring peace of mind to the general public, and may actually save us tax dollars by preventing Congress from wasting our time holding hearings on the "rampant and open drug abuse situation in NASCAR."
Still, I hold to the idea that mandantory drug testing is uneccessary in our sport.

marc said...

And when a driver "signs up" to compete they would also know they would be subject to random tests if that was the policy.

From all the comments from the top stars affirming their belief there should be random testing I fail to see the problem.

You can still believe that mandatory drug testing is unnecessary but just like France, Hunter and various other NASCAR officials you've all been proven wrong by first Fike coming out and saying he was high on race days AND Kasey Kahne admitting he had suspicions last year about Fike but didn't say anything. Both revelations lay waste to any thoughts that the current system works.

And I note you didn't address my main point, in your six years did you see any "psychological effects" in Air Force members as a result of them not feeling "trusted?

Dr. Phil Kool-Aid has a very bitter taste in very short order, put it down.

RevJim said...

I'm very happy that you decided to carry on the discussion here, Marc, and perhaps my take on the consequences of being falsely accused is more personal than general.
But to address what you consider the main point, I assume that you never had any encounters during the seventies with people who were certain that because you were in the military that you must have murdered babies in Viet Nam, or, having asserted that you were never in Viet Nam, were found guilty by association.
That did have a profound effect on me, personally.
We had drug testing for sensitive positions for the entire time I was in the Air Force, well before the eighties, and I always accepted that as part of my duties.
I did receive an honorable discharge, after my six year term of enlistment and a six month extension expired, and I would do it again if I could, in case you were wondering.
Back to the point of this post, my rant is not so much against the idea of drug testing per se as it is about the idea that drug testing is necessary. I have no problem with the teams taking the responsibility of testing upon themselves, rather than expecting NASCAR to do it and raise the price of tickets even more to cover the costs.
As a drug councilor, and I know how difficult a job that must be, you must be aware that Fyke obviously lied, and would not have been capable of getting into the truck if he had been under the influence of heroin. There is no such thing as a "small dose" of heroin. He would have either had to have used enough to get him too high to function, or enough to kill him. Those are the only two sizes of a dose for a heroin addict.
His lie opened a can of worms that has caused too much concern about something that is not that big in NASCAR, and that has, to date, been taken care of without disasterous effects.

marc said...

"There is no such thing as a "small dose" of heroin. He would have either had to have used enough to get him too high to function, or enough to kill him. Those are the only two sizes of a dose for a heroin addict."

That is patent non-sense and a total inability to see reality. Not to mention a complete ignorance of the drug.

At best he was in the second stage of addiction, not The Forth Stage where your actions are noticeable.

There are thousands of people that function each and every day at a level that seems normal yet are in fact addicted to drugs up and including heroin.

Fike said himself he had only been using the drug for a short time, that indicates he was at a level that to outsiders appeared "normal."

That said, via your ignorance of the drug and it real effects, you compound an indefensible position by claiming Fike is a liar.

Again, you're so far out to lunch as to be not even be invited to the table to eat.

RevJim said...

Marc, I appreciate your comments here. I am going by my experience. I respect your opinion, and I enjoy your blog so much I visit it every day.
And even though I respect the fact that you served your country, I am now wondering if the military should have tested for communist sympathisers as well as for drugs in the eighties.
All your book learning has nothing to do with the reality you learn when people you know and love become addicted to drugs. Not even your experience as a councilor could handle that. You were a REMF in the Navy, and you are a REMF now, when it comes to this discussion. People are individuals and can not be rubber stamped by expectations derived by from behavioral studies. So don't be giving me that four stages crap that came out of theoretical science.
I have to assume that since you have decided to put on a tin hat of your own in going along with the sheep who believe there is some kind of conspiracy to cover up drug use in NASCAR, that your own kool-aid is the only kool-aid that anyone should drink.