Josh Gordon, star NFL wide-receiver for the Cleveland Browns likes to smoke some weed, just like my good friend Charlie. No difference right? WRONG. Josh Gordon was suspended initially for the entire 2014 season for testing positive for marijuana. How much weed was found in his system? 16 NANOGRAMS. Similarly, my friend Charlie likes to smoke a little bit of weed himself , yet did he receive any suspension for doing so? No. Any trouble? No. And shouldn’t there be for him too as he committed the same wrong? Contrary to popular belief no, at least not according to philosopher John Stuart Mill.
According to John Stuart Mill individuals are free to act as they wish as long as they do not create or do harm to others. Mill sees harm as the basis or rational for whether or not an act of an individual is acceptable. It is up to the individual to act as he wishes so long as his actions affect himself and himself only. Mill writes, “Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by others; but he himself is the final judge. All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.” Mill does not view the errors that one may cause to himself to be an issue. It is not up to the public and others to determine whether or not that individual should act a certain way when such actions are impacting nobody but himself. Individuals are to have free control of their bodies and minds and to do with them as they wish. However, Mill says, “Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example; and ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead” When the actions that at first glance just seem to be in relation to himself create harm to others it is an entirely different story. Mill disapproves of such actions as he sees one’s freedom to act as they please ends with creating harm to others. Even actions that are only directly harming the individual, harm to others can still be done. It is harm by example, and it is still just as wrong as harming another individual according to mill. Now let’s examine the cases of Josh Gordon and Charlie and see why the two are different:
Josh Gordon was suspended for 16 games for testing positive for an extremely small amount of marijuana found in system. His suspension was reduced to only 10 games but nonetheless he still was punished for consuming such a minute amount of the drug. It doesn’t really matter though how much weed was in his urine really. The only thing that mattered was that is was there in the first place and it should not have been. The above clip shows the outrage and the extent to which the harm and outrage was felt by the sports world.
Josh Gordon is a national figure in sports and somebody who is widely known. While his smoking or consumption of marijuana only directly harms him, it still is as Mill puts it, “injurious by example.” Gordon’s name is in the paper and Sports Illustrated , his jersey is sold in stores, his name is on ESPN, NFL Network, he is a nationally recognized figure. Kids look up to him. Fans admire him. Coaches, owners, execs all put their reputations on the line for him. Younger players in high school and college look up to him. Gordon is supposed to serve as an example of what a professional should be in the NFL. He is supposed to act with the highest conduct as he should be someone players wish to emulate, but he is not. Gordon’s smoking of marijuana not only creates a harm to himself directly but creates a harm by example. He no longer is an example of what a professional player should be. He is the spitting image of what an NFL player should not be, of what a professional should not be. He violated Mill’s harm principal as he is clearly causing harm to others by example. Furthermore, according to Mill, “No individual ought to be punished simply for being drunk…Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law.” Josh Gordon creates a definite risk of damage not only to himself but others. Gordon is part of a team and is relied upon by his teammates to conduct himself in a professional manner. They need him to be focused on his task of playing his position above all else. He cannot risk injury due to an act he may commit as a result of consuming marijuana nor can he afford to be caught doing so when he knows the consequence is suspension. Knowing this, and knowing that his removal from the team would have repercussions on the success of the team, Gordon, by consuming marijuana was committing a harmful act. His actions not only affected himself, but his contributions to the team and the team as a whole in general. His actions do not just affect himself, but rather the general public and other players to turn to him as an example but to his team and fellow teammates who are dependent on him to not let anything inter with his craft and them winning.
For Charlie, it’s an entirely different story. Charlie smokes weed on occasion for his own personal enjoyment. He smokes weed, does a little harm to his brain and body, but feels good in the process. At no point is he serving as an example to others or is he creating a risk to others. By smoking occasionally in a safe and controlled environment by himself he is simply doing so for pure enjoyment. His actions are having no affect on those around him . He listens to music, enjoys a snack, and enjoys his high. At no point is he acting in a manner that is harmful to anybody but himself. He is strictly acting for himself and himself only. As Mill states, “No individual ought to be harmed simply for being drunk.” This is the case with Charlie. He is simply being high by himself and not affecting others in any way shape or form. Mill does not believe somebody Charlie is doing any wrong and has a right to act as he wishes as individual. According to Mill, Charlie is not committing any harm to others. Whether his actions are deemed right or wrong by society is irrelevant. All that matters is that he is only committing harm to himself. It does not matter what he does to himself because the only harm that needs to be prohibited is harm that an individual causes another. In this case, no such harm is being done. Charlie has every right as individual to smoke as he wishes as doing so only affects him in the environment in which he smokes in. It is perfectly okay, therefore, for him to exercise his individual will to consume marijuana as it is in no manner the same as somebody like Josh Gordon.
Two individuals can commit the same wrong, yet, who commits them can make every difference in their harm. According to Mill any individual act that serves to be harmful in any way to others is simply an act that cannot be committed. However, when that act creates harm and affects nobody but the individual committing it, there is nothing that should be done to prevent it as it is within the rights of the individual to commit such acts. This is the case when it comes to Josh Gordon and Charlie. Gordon’s actions can and will create harm to others around him and around the country, while the actions of Charlie in the isolation in which he commits them only affect himself and nobody else and are therefore perfectly okay to commit.