There is a controversy in Massachusetts where two high school seniors have been kicked off their lacrosse team (and will be barred from the state championship) because they were photographed smoking victory cigars at their graduation ceremony. Here is the interesting twist. The school acknowledges that players were not in violation of state law, but will be barred under a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rule on drugs and alcohol.
The MIAA handbook states
From the earliest fall practice date, to the conclusion of the academic year or final athletic event (whichever is latest), a student shall not, regardless of the quantity, use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol; any tobacco product(including e-cigarettes); marijuana; steroids; or any controlled substance. This policy includes products such as “NA or near beer”. It is not a violation for a student to be in possession of a legally defined drug specifically prescribed for the student’s own use by his/her doctor.
However, state law allows for anyone over 18 to smoke, though some towns recently moved to increase that age limit.
Tobacco is still a lawful product and it is not a product that endangers other players like alcohol or illegal drugs. It is also a product that, while clearly unhealthy, does not necessarily endanger the 18 and older players.
I find smoking highly unpleasant and I am astonished that people still smoke. However, I find the line here rather uncertain given the legality of the practice. These students were only smoking cigars, a traditional way of celebrating an occasion. It is not even clear that they are regular smokers. I would feel the same way about a picture of an 18-year-old taking a sip of champagne. While illegal, it is a common allowance among parents. In this way, it is not even unlawful.
I recognize that an association can impose any rules as a precondition for participants so long as it is not itself unlawful. However, this seems a bit harsh to me. This is not only a heavy sanction for these teenagers but could impact their college plans. The fact that a teenager accepted a cigar at a celebration seems pretty minor. I expect that plenty of athletes have such moments but are fortunate enough not to end up on the cover of the local paper.
What do you think?