There could soon be a new kind of Green coming to the Gridiron. NBC Sports reported last week that “the NFL is prepared to make major concessions regarding the substance abuse policy, especially as it relates to marijuana.”
Wow, how progressive! But why now, you may ask?
Maybe they’ve read the vast medical studies on how effective medical marijuana is for concussed brains and they really care about the health of their teams. Or maybe the NFL realizes just how many of its players use cannabis during the season anyway, and it’s hoping to use the issue as a bargaining chip during the upcoming 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
Whatever its reason for considering this policy change, there will be some serious consequences if the NFL follows through.
Unsurprisingly to some, many athletes already use cannabis for medical and therapeutic reasons. If the NFL’s rules do change, players will simply be able to do so without fear of suspension. Much like the VA’s policy change for veterans and their doctors, this potential switch would also give what I am told is a majority of NFL players the freedom to come clean with their doctors about their prefered choice of medicine.
To celebrate 4/20 last year, a group of veteran NFL players lit up joints on The Bleacher Report, and admitted they smoked cannabis during their entire NFL careers. Former Chiefs Defensive End Shaun Smith came clean about his pre-game ritual, which included two blunts, a bath full of epsom salts, and breakfast with his family.
Former Titans’ Tight End Bo Scaife estimated that around 80% of the league currently uses marijuana throughout the regular season; for pain, sleep, anxiety, and recovery. And it’s not just the players; Former Broncos Offensive Tackle Ryan Clady says recreational cannabis use runs from QB’s to coaches to administrative personnel. Even Jerry Jones has been publicly onboard with the NFL dropping its marijuana prohibition for the past two years (perhaps he partakes?!)
And they’re not just using it. Many former footballers, now free of league rules, are in on the cannabis business game; including Calvin Johnson, Ricky Williams, Jim McMahon, Joe Montana, and Rob Sims.
In January of this year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall said he spoke with the NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith “a few weeks ago” about the issue of marijuana in the league, right before the NFL said it would consider the policy change. Then this video came out, from the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, in which a host of former NFL players professed their longtime forbidden love of medical marijuana. In it, they say Goodall is not concerned with players’ health because to the NFL Commissioner, allowing cannabis in the league is a bargaining opportunity. A business decision.
To Goodall’s credit, sports is a business - essentially an entertainment business. So how could allowing marijuana affect the quality of the game? For some NFL fans, it’s like asking if you mind if the athletes are allowed a beer after they play.
Who cares? If cannabis is a permitted yet intoxicating substance like alcohol, and a player uses it pre-game and it negatively affects the way they perform, the athlete is the one facing the long term consequences. But if the same substance helps them with pain afterwards, what’s the big deal?
There is already a load of scientific evidence on how cannabis can treat a range of injuries that NFL players endure most weekends. Cannabis has already been proven to affect pathways in the brain that control pain. It’s also incredibly effective as a topical cream for aches, bruises, and muscle strains. CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is a serious brain condition associated with repeated blows to the head.
A recent New York Times article detailed a study of 111 NFL players’ brains, 110 of which had CTE. It’s now well documented that ingesting the non-psychoactive compound CBD has a potent effect on inflammation, which could offer an effective cushion for concussed brains. According to recent research, 80% of people treated with medical marijuana for CTE experienced significant improvement in their symptoms.
Cannabis is also an effective and safe sleep aid, and apart from aching all night, having trouble dozing off can be a real problem for highly competitive, driven people like pro-athletes. Especially as it’s another symptom of CTE.
For other fans, any amount of cannabis on the field is too much. Like sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, who says he just straight up does not want to watch a game where the players are allowed to be stoned. He sticks to the stigma, and says addicts don’t have the discipline to be a pro-athlete (Cough - prescription opioids - Cough.) Some fans agree that giving players permission to blaze it up before a big game could take from their abilities on the field.
But according to the players themselves; they are big boys who can make up their own minds about when and if using cannabis helps. Shaun Smith admitted to smoking before all his games because it helped him get in the zone, but former Broncos and Eagles Guard John Moffitt said there is no way he could have played after ripping a bong. But, he says, cannabis was a necessary go-to for post-game pain.
He also said it’s unlikely that players who have worked so hard to get so far would throw it all away by coming to the field stoned out of their minds. What’s more likely, he believes, is that players could more openly use the medicine they’re already turning to every Monday morning.
Right now, the NFL issues random drug tests, and all players must undergo one mandatory drug test per season. It usually happens in the spring, during OTA’s (organized team activities.) If you pop once for any restricted substance, you can get increased testing up to several time per month from then on. If you pop a second time, you’re suspended. And like Dallas Cowboys’ Defensive End David Irving, that suspension can be indefinite. Last month, Irving announced he is quitting the NFL over the league’s policy on marijuana, and he did it live on Instagram while toking up some cloudy Kush.
If the NFL policy on pot adjusts, there will be more than just a major change in the careers, lives, and health of players. If they can use cannabis all season long, as long as it is in compliance with state laws, prepare for a flood of free agents who will only sign with teams who are in states with legal access to cannabis. That rush shouldn’t last long though, because in all likelihood, cannabis will be federally legalized across the U.S. by 2021 anyway - the same year the NFL’s next CBA goes into effect. I doubt Goodall will miss the opportunity to sweeten the deal first.