Varsity Greens: The Stigmatization of Cannabis-Using Canadian University Athletes

  • Author / Creator
    Skillings, Alec
  • Cannabis was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018. However, it remains prohibited in amateur sport. Canadian university athletes still face punishments for their use of cannabis such as, suspensions, loss of awards and scholarships, and social stigmatization. This thesis presents the results of 12 semi-structured qualitative interviews with Canadian university athletes. I utilized Grounded Theory methodology to produce and analyze the data. The results of these interviews indicate that Canadian university athletes use cannabis in a multiplicity of ways. They use it to manage pain, promote satiety, and aid in sleep. They also use it to manage stress and anxiety, and to promote optimal experiences in recreational and non-competitive activities. Moreover, cannabis is used socially between teammates.
    Athletes undergo a process of role engulfment, meaning that their role as an athlete demands so much time and energy that other roles, such as academic and social, become overwhelmed by their athletic one. In some cases, cannabis is used to manage the process of role engulfment and in other cases it may promote the process. Athletes are stigmatized for their cannabis use because of their unique prestige status. Public expectations, or virtual demands, are imposed on athletes which result in an elevated stigma if they are caught using the substance. The athletes I interviewed implemented a variety of techniques to conceal their use from the public, drug testing agencies, coaches, and teammates.
    The spirit of sport (SoS), or the intrinsic values of sport, is used as a criterion to determine whether a substance is to be prohibited in amateur sport. Athletes’ definitions of the SoS are similar to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s, but the interpretations of them are vastly different. Canadian university athletes do not perceive cannabis to be an unfair performance- enhancing drug. They position it closer to drugs like caffeine and ibuprofen. These perceptions promote the concept of fluid drugs, or the social construction of drugs. Drugs, and the stigma
    attached to them, are constructed as a result of social circumstances and contexts. Drugs are not neutral chemical compounds. Rather, they have been socially constructed as harmful, deviant, and contrary to the SoS. The shifting legality of cannabis in North America and around the world, along with the changing drug policies in professional leagues, like Major League Baseball, provide evidence of a changing drug milieu. Furthermore, the incongruencies between cannabis-using athletes’ perspectives on cannabis and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s is indicative that amateur sports’ cannabis policies may be lagging behind social consensus.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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