Foul Ball: Random Drug Testing of Athletes

by Tom Krause

Jill, Jimmy and Peter all attend the same high school.

Jill is a sophomore reserve player on her high school’s volleyball team. She is an excellent student with good grades. She’s never a problem in class and certainly not into drugs.

Jimmy is a senior. He is the starting quarterback on the football team and the starting point guard on the school’s basketball team. Also a solid student, he never has been sent to the principal’s office for any disciplinary reasons.

Peter is not into sports. His grades are lacking for a number of reasons. Peter likes to brag to his classmates about his partying on the weekends. While Jill and Jimmy spend most of their time in class, Peter often skips class and, when detected, spends time in in-school suspension.

Clean Living
Under their school’s random drug-testing policy, Jill has been tested eight times. Jimmy has never been tested but may someday. Peter never will be tested.

This scenario shows why random drug testing of student athletes may seem like a good idea on the surface but really is not right, not fair and not working.

Every year school districts like ours spend thousands of dollars on random testing of student athletes. In our southwest Missouri school district with a high school enrollment of about 1,200 students, three years of random testing has never led to a positive test or an athletic suspension.

Does that mean that drug use has ceased among our athletes? When I offer that conclusion to athletes in our district, they roll their eyes and smile. “Coach,” they reply, “everybody knows the test is on Wednesday.” What they are implying is that students who use an illegal substance on the weekends have found a way to be “clean” by midweek.

The fact that some athletes are tested multiple times while others may never be tested doesn’t add to the credibility of the program. Students feel picked on while claiming that others are “getting by with stuff.”

In reality, the random nature of the testing causes this discrepancy. It doesn’t matter that Jill has been tested eight times and Jimmy has never been tested. It doesn’t matter that Jill has never used illegal drugs and probably never will. It only matters that her name was chosen.

It also doesn’t seem fair that Peter can brag about his partying and never have to worry about being tested at school because he has rights to privacy that Jill and Jimmy had to surrender in order to participate in athletics. Is it right that Jill and Jimmy show up for practice on time, do everything their coach asks of them, maintain good grades, never get in trouble at school and yet still must prove themselves by submitting to random drug testing? Peter, meanwhile, has to prove nothing.

Questionable Merits
Why single out student athletes? Why not test every student who drives a car to school? At least that policy might identify students such as Peter who really could benefit from drug intervention. Besides, random drug testing has not been proven to deter drug use. In 2003, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the largest study ever conducted on the topic. Researchers compared 76,000 students in schools with and without drug testing and found no difference in illegal drug use between the two school environments.

So why continue to pour thousands of dollars every year into a program that is not right, not fair and not working? Advocates would state that if such a program saves one kid it is worth it. I’ve got news for them: They’re missing that one kid.

Tom Krause is health education coordinator in the Nixa R-II School District, 205 North St., Nixa, MO 65714. E-mail: