Blowing the whistle on drugs

Professional basketball is to be commended for its forceful move to root out drug abuse. And for setting good example in this area for youth. It also sets an example worth emulating by other sports. Football and other pro sports could profitably follow basketball's lead: its owners and players have agreed on a program that would ban permanently from the game players who after January 1 are found to be heroin or cocaine users. The ban could be appealed after two years. Until the first of the year players who seek help to end drug use would be aided without penalty.

The basketball plan comes on the heels of similarly tough action by leaders in amateur track and field sports. During the Pan American Games in August, sophisticated drug-testing equipment was used which identified a number of medal winners as having taken illegal drugs; they were promptly stripped of their awards. Similar equipment is to be in operation during next year's Olympics.

Unfortunately such strict action is necessary in today's times both to eradicate drug use among top rank athletes and to set the proper example for young people. This last was one of the goals mentioned by players involved in approving the basketball program. They said they hoped for a trickle-down effect: that college athletes would realize they could not use drugs and seek to be professionals. And that the message would seep down, through high schools and junior highs, to elementary school youngsters: drugs and sports don't mix.

Several basketball players pointed out their special responsibility as role models for young boys - especially for black youngsters, inasmuch as more than half the pro basketballers are black.

In a era in which there seems to be a surfeit of the first-person pronoun, it is good to see highly-paid, highly-publicized athletes publicly exhibiting such concern about the needs of others.

There is more, of course, to be done in the drug area. Use of marijuana, abuse of alcohol and other drugs need to be tackled. But this is a good step forward.

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