CONFERENCE AIMED AT HELPING YOUTHS SEEK A `NATURAL HIGH'
WE SHOULDN'T TOLERATE DRUG USE AND ABUSE AMONG PROFESSIONAL OR ANY OTHER ATHLETES, GRIDDER SAYSDrug use and abuse should not be tolerated among professional or other athletes, Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen says.
The 1981 Heisman trophy winner, who last year was selected the National Football League's Most Valuable Player, was in Salt Lake City Friday to address the fourth annual conference of the Utah Federation for Drug-Free Youth."Reach for a Natural High" is the theme for the conference, which attracted several thousand youths, parents, educators, state and community leaders and others to the Salt Palace.
Allen, 28, who is a leader of a drug awareness program in the Los Angeles Unified School System, said he favors tighter requirements for keeping drugs out of athletic programs and strong disciplinary measures for those who violate such standards.
"One bad apple doesn't speak for the entire group, but next to the parent, the athlete is the No. 1 role model (for youths). That's what upsets me more than anything. We have so many people looking at us. We have so much responsibility toward them, whether we like it or not. Athletes have to live completely drug-free lives. We are in the public's eye and must live our lives accordingly," Allen said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News before the conference opened.
Allen, who last year led the NFL in rushing with 1,759 yards, said he had many opportunities to take drugs when he was in school but said he felt no desire for such substances.
"I was always faced with the opportunity to use drugs but I never did. I've seen how it has ruined people's lives. I've seen its destruction. I have seen it kill some of my colleagues Don Rogers, who played for the Cleveland Browns, and Len Bias, who played basketball at the University of Maryland," Allen said.
Tragedy, he said, is the only way to describe the way drugs are consuming many people's lives and their potential for the future.
"What is really sad is that it takes a tragedy like this to make people stop and take notice of the horrible problem we have."
After making his presentation to about 6,000 participants, Allen invited more than two dozen teens to join him on the stand to ask questions. One young woman said she had heard the conference had a theme of "Reach for a Natural High." She said it would "really give me a natural high if I could get a hug from Marcus Allen." Allen willingly obliged, responding, "Gee, Utah is great. I hope I get invited back next year."
Jan Bullock, president of the Utah Federation for Drug Free youth who conducted the opening session said she is excited about the conference, which continues through Saturday, because it is "a celebration for youth. We want our kids to be drug-free. There are droves of kids who are absolutely saying no to drugs. State statistics show that kids are determining they will be drug-free."
During an interview Allen focused on his own family and the strength it has given him in resisting pressures to use drugs. He paid tribute to his father, Harold, and mother, Gwen, for their example and inspiration, saying that many youths aren't as fortunate as he was in having a strong family.
"Luckily, I had a family who really cared about me, supported me and gave me love. As a result, I had self-esteem and respect for myself. A lot of things helped me avoid (drugs), but my family was probably the number one thing," Allen said.
A leader in the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance and Education) program in Los Angeles, Allen said he greatly admires his father for his personal and physical attention to his family and for allowing him and three brothers and a sister to be themselves.
"It was great that he allowed me to be me. I was never an extension of him. Too many times parents want their kids to be like them, never allowing them to fulfill their own dreams and desires. That causes kids to rebel," he said.
Allen praised his mother for being "very supportive, disciplining, yet lenient."
The football star said it is important for youths to stay in school and avoid gangs and other groups that would lead them away from their goals and ambitions.
Allen said drug-related problems are tied to youths' self-esteem and feelings about themselves.
"A lot of these kids don't think too highly of themselves. Some of these kids are weak. They find strength in numbers. That is why some go to gangs, because they feel wanted and good."
He reiterated his love of training for football, and predicted that the Raiders will play in the Super Bowl next year. Allen said he finds unending enjoyment in playing football and that he believes the game can catapult athletes to even greater accomplishments.
Football is "something I love to do. When you love to do it it is a lot easier. I have passion for what I do. I love to play the game, so working out is easy. When you work out you feel good, not only physically but psychologically."