On Cheeseburgers, Straight Edge, and Hierarchies of Values

Here's another lesson Tom Brady can teach us about how to live healthily, this time on how to bridge the gap between wants and actions.

In a recent interview with New York Magazine, Tom Brady again discussed his apparently novel (because people seem to be so fixated on it) diet. Not only did his comments hit home personally regarding my straight edge lifestyle, they were also a bit more revealing than usual of how a rational mind works:

“Do you need to eat a cheeseburger every day to realize that you love a cheeseburger? Or could you eat it once a week … or once every two weeks … or once a month … or once every two months?…I don’t believe you could be a 39-year-old quarterback in the NFL and eat cheeseburgers every day. I want to be able to do what I love to do for a long time.”

What Brady is talking about is competing values. On one hand, he loves cheeseburgers. On the other, he loves being a quarterback in the NFL. Since he identifies both of those things as values, he has to decide which is more of a value. Or, in other words, he has to place those two values on a hierarchy. He does so by bringing in the context of his age and his assessment of what is possible. So for him, choosing not to eat cheeseburgers is not a struggle because he knows if he did, he would be sacrificing a higher value, playing quarterback in the NFL. In a way, it is an automatic decision.

Likewise, for me, being straight edge has never been a challenge even though people seem to think it should be. Sometimes I’ve asked if it’s difficult to never drink or do drugs. I usually subtly dodge the discussion by saying “the choice is automatic at this point,” but , truthfully, I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t automatic. I know (through observation of others and knowledge of myself) that my life would be drastically different if I chose to drink or do drugs. So, the way I really want to respond is with a question of my own–why would it be difficult? It’s a contemplation that continually intrigues me, especially when I hear people say they want to lose weight but struggle to change their diet…or if I bring the discussion back to football.

ESPN First Take’s Stephen A. Smith rarely expresses opinions I agree with, but his entertaining delivery has led to a meme-of-sorts concerning marijuana usage among NFL players:

And I do truly wonder why so many talented football players can’t “stay off the weed.” The most famous example is running back Ricky Williams who dominated in college but stalled in the pros and “wants now to become the face of cannabis-and-sports.” More recently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had some weed-induced suspensions–for two seasons in a row. Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season after being arrested for DUI and marijuana possession…and is suspended for the first 3 games of the 2016 season for a missed drug test. Bell’s teammate Martavis Bryant also missed the first 4 games of the 2015 season (for violating the league’s substance abuse policy)…and is suspended for the entire 2016 season (for violating the league’s substance abuse policy).

Why is smoking weed so important to these players? Because it’s importance is what you’re declaring when you smoke it when you could be doing other things and/or get suspended from your job. In the case of Bell and Bryant, they’re members of one of the best offenses in the league on one of the best teams in the league. They stand a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl, especially if the two of them played every game, and they’re paid millions of dollars when they play. So, why can’t they “stay off the weed”?

I don’t know the answer (and to Bryant’s credit he now claims he is staying off). What I do know is this. Values matter, and how you rank yours has a direct impact on the quality of your life. If you’re struggling to eat differently when trying to lose weight, I wonder if being skinnier is truly more of a value to you than the food you’ve always liked to eat. And I understand that reordering, or developing, your hierarchy of values is difficult, but let me put it this way.

If we’re talking about choosing to forgo health, wealth, and/or prosperity in favor of other “values” (especially substances that are pleasure inducing) what does choosing the other say about your view of life and, ultimately, yourself?