Tyrann Mathieu smoked some weed in college. If we're going to play this brain-dead association game, let's start by being clear about what he actually did. He smoked some weed, somehow got vilified for it, was thrown off his football team, went to rehab for weed, and now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. There is no inherent connectivity among any of those events—they succeed one another in a matrix of chaos—but the bullshit constructions we've established for athletes gum them together just enough to break out the prefab redemption storylines anyway.
This is a 3,300-word profile on Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger, and his football career, and it doesn't spend a single sentence considering the preposterousness of his situation. If you knew nothing about Mathieu other than the story laid out by ESPN and others, you would probably be very confused. Mathieu must have been into some real shit, you'd have to think after reading his adoptive father saying things like, "It was about saving his life," and, "You could've rolled out the coffin and put me in it, and just closed it up," after Tyrann was led from his apartment in handcuffs following a search by Baton Rouge police. Mathieu got it together, though. He moved away to Florida, got his life under control, rededicated himself to the game. You know, because he was smoking weed.
In some ways, this is an NCAA story. Everyone knows how to act when we find some instance of NCAA bosses squeezing Rick Majerus for buying a kid a bagel, or bringing the hammer down on a guy for playing in a church league. The difference is that once a whiff of drugs or sex is introduced, the critical faculties all fall to shit, however void the accusations raised might be. You saw this in Sports Illustrated's ill-conceived Oklahoma State story and its obsession with marijuana use and undergraduate sex, or in Yahoo's remedial reading of Syracuse basketball. The NCAA is a punching bag, until the NCAA is the only thing standing between our college kids and a bag of weed.
The progression of the story itself is standard NCAA scandal hunting: Find any opportunity to seize upon some rote misconduct, and bang on it until someone apologizes to you. Plug anything from recruiting violations to drugs into that formula, and you'll get some version of every NCAA scandal story told in the past 30 years. Plug in some good reporting on a genuine topic, and you get a story worth doing, like pulling back the curtain on sexual assault at Notre Dame; plug in horseshit and you get Oklahoma State or Tyrann Mathieu checking into inpatient rehab for smoking weed.
The difference between those stories, and their reception, should be obvious enough. Oklahoma State and Syracuse enjoyed all the advantages of being massive institutions, with lawyers, PR flacks, and snowblind fans willing to run interference on the dumb stuff. For a college student like Mathieu, though, who exists to cry bullshit when, say, Sports Illustrated, in basically the most grotesque piece of sports writing in recent memory, draws ridiculous parallels between Tyrann and his father—a convicted murderer—because Tyrann likes to smoke weed, and maybe go to clubs? You've just got to hope that someone along the chain is smart enough to see stupid for what it is.
They weren't. Everyone involved in this idiotic kabuki played his role perfectly. The press was happy to write up Honey Badger stories in a tone more suited to someone who'd just been caught muling heroin for the Sinaloa cartel. "This isn't the end of the line," the normally level-headed Dan Wetzel wrote the day after Mathieu's arrest on the kind of cheap-ass possession charge that well-lawyered college kids are always getting expunged from their records. "It's on the way though." Les Miles was the perfect moron coach, ready to cut bait on a kid with a failed drug test. (Both Syracuse and Oklahoma State at least used some discretion when deciding whether or not to discipline bullshit drug tests, though for differing reasons.) LSU followed Miles's lead. Mathieu and especially his family were—and remain—quick to apologize and contort themselves according to whatever farcical standard of behavior was being imposed on them by the old narrative.
So fine, let's talk weed and what it actually costs a person. The answer, obviously, is somewhere from $60 to a lot per ounce, depending on where you live and what you like to smoke. Beyond that, not much. It's a nothing offense. Millions of Americans smoke weed every year without causing any harm to themselves or to others. (The biggest crime in all this was that Mathieu was at one point smoking synthetic pot, not the natural, more salutary stuff.) The last three presidents copped to it—same for senators, Supreme Court justices, LeBron fucking James—and no one gave a shit. De jure decriminalization might be a recent development, but our collective apathy about marijuana, outside the sports world, is not. The cost to Mathieu, though? Here's USA Today:
Asked what he has lost in the past year, Mathieu said "millions," but emphasized he'll be happy to play football for a few hundred thousand dollars after playing the game his whole life for free.
Gracious. Deferential. Would play for free! If nothing else, Mathieu at least understands what the idiots seem to want from him. He doesn't play for free, though—just for significantly less than he would if his friends could open a gate like normal human beings. Mathieu's contract is some special bullshit, too. He is guaranteed only a fraction of his signing bonus up front ($265,000 of the $662,000 a player drafted in his slot is typically paid up front), with the rest spread over the last three years of his four-year contract, which allows the Cardinals to cut him at any time. Short leash for the pothead.
By all rights, Tyrann Mathieu should tell us all to go fuck ourselves. He can't, though, because despite going through the media wringer with every right answer, and for Christ's sake, going to rehab, twice, for smoking weed, he's still on uneasy footing, because discipline and authority in football are unimpeachable, and playing savvily within the rules is somehow reckoned more virtuous and commendable than existing outside of them, no matter how senseless and destructive they might be.