Dueling narratives over the future of medical cannabis in the NFL hit the airwaves this week with NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith leading the support and Commissioner Roger Goodell backing a continued ban.
On ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” this week, Smith was asked about medical cannabis in the league.
“We intended to present a proposal to the league that has probably more of a therapeutic approach to those who test positive for marijuana,” he said. “The idea is simply to make sure that we understand whether a player is suffering from something other than just a desire to smoke marijuana. I think all of us would want to have a process where if there was truly a problem, we’re treating the problem instead of just treating a symptom.”
Three years ago, Smith said early preliminary discussions about allowing players to use medical marijuana had taken place, but noted that the main focus of the players association was creating a wider “gold standard performance enhancing drug policy with the league.”
“The framework about our discussion about any drug is the drug policy and I really believe that it’s incumbent on both sides to try and get that matter resolved soon and then we can have other discussions,” he said at the time.
This week on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike,” Commissioner Goodell sang a very different tune than the players association chief. When asked specifically about medical cannabis use and not recreational use, Goodell gave a mysterious answer including new theoretical cannabinoids that may permanently damage players and thoughts of future reparations the NFL will owe the players if they are allowed to smoke pot.
Here is his full answer:
“I think you still have to look at a lot of the aspects of marijuana use. Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? And there’s still… listen, you’re ingesting smoke. So that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. Uhh, it does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for players long term. All of those things have to be considered and it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after the game. We really want to help players in that circumstance, but I want to make sure the negative consequences aren’t something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”
As one commenter pointed out, with Goodell’s reasoning the league may be expected to ban tobacco and alcohol products. Surely the carcinogens of burning tobacco and the known deadly compounds in booze with be the death of the league!
Goodell claims that this isn’t simply a matter of someone wanting to smoke a joint to feel better after a game, but for many, it is just that. Smith told “Face the Nation” in February that last season saw 4,900 reportable injuries in the NFL amongst the 1,800 players in the league. Smith put it in terms of the current healthcare battle in Congress.
“Every player in the league leaves the game with preexisting condition,” he said.
Goodell’s continued narrow vision will lead the players of today down an unfortunate road many have already traveled. As research from John Barr and “Outside the Lines” shows, 52 percent of retired players said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days. Of those, 71 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medication within the past 30 days. Furthermore, 63 percent of the retired players who used prescription pain pills while playing obtained the medications from a non-medical source: a teammate, coach, trainer, family member, dealer or the internet. Goodell’s stance will only force people down two paths, addiction or the black market.
Cannabis Now reached out to Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Mason Tvert to comment on Goodell’s statements and he called out the the NFL commissioner’s dated rhetoric.
“The commissioner is clinging to an antiquated and baseless policy,” Tvert said. “This is a league that is fueled by the promotion and consumption of alcohol, which is a more harmful substance. At the very least, these players should have the right to use marijuana in accordance with their state law and local laws, especially if it’s for a medical purpose.”
Tvert says it’s important for the players to keep the heat on the league, especially in regards to all the hypocrisy flying around the issues of public safety and wellness being used to prevent players access to cannabis.
“The players should keep the pressure on league officials and make them explain why it is okay for the league to partner with beer companies to get fans drunk and rowdy, but not okay for players to use a less harmful substance to relieve a painful injury.”
Despite the commissioner’s misgivings, support for medical marijuana in the NFL began to trickle down from ownership, with the Dallas Cowboys making waves in particular. In March, owner Jerry Jones began airing his grievances with the league’s current policy on marijuana through back channels. Word of this got out quickly, so one can presume Jones wanted it to be exposed because he understands that crossing him as a Cowboys executive or staffer would be career suicide.
This week Jones, the Cowboys COO, executive vice president and director of player personnel, confirmed the rumors telling “Pro Football Talk” that the franchise believes the time has come for careful scrutiny and possible overhaul of the league’s decades-old position on marijuana.
“I think Jerry’s opinion, my opinion, is this program, this system has been in place for a long time. I think it needs to be heavily scrutinized in terms of its results,” Jones said.
When the subject matter was focused on marijuana alone, as opposed to the wider drug policy in the league, Jones responded:
“You know, I think it should be a part of what’s looked at. When you re-look at the whole program, I think you should take a look at every aspect of it. From the testing to the discipline to the amounts, anything to do with this. At the end of the day, our goal should be to help players who have sicknesses and addictions and make them better people off the field, and then how we go about that I think is what needs to be looked at and make sure we’re doing everything the best way we can do it. Obviously, when you look at something like that you have to look at, ‘How do we do it in society right now? How does that affect the way a player sees his situation in that lens?’ And then make decisions based on that.”
420 Games founder Jim McAlpine has not only been helping to lead the new wave of cannabis athleticism taking root over the past few years, but also assists retired NFL players in getting their voice on the issue out to the public. McAlpine believes NFL players are excellent representatives for medical marijuana.
“NFL pros compliment us Average Joe athletes in a great way that shows we can all use cannabis in a healthy and productive manner within our athletic lifestyles,” he said. “People tend to listen and become more engaged when the message is coming from a 280 pound top-level athlete that played professional sports.”
When asked what has been like working with the players pushing the issue across America from television to medical conferences, McAlpine replied, “I have really enjoyed meeting and working with the NFL players that have stepped out as advocates. In particular, Kyle Turley and Eben Britton have been very impressive to me in their intelligence and passion behind this advocacy mission. I feel lucky to have guys like that on our team.”
The nation’s oldest marijuana advocacy group, NORML, praised the move by the players association to get reignite the fire around the medical cannabis discussion, which has had its peaks and valleys in recent years.
“NORML applauds the NFL Players Association for continuing their push to allow their members access to a safe, therapeutic medicine,” Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “There is no reason to deny professional football players, who engage in an incredibly high risk and high-intensity line of work, access to medical marijuana.”
Altieri went on saying time and time again “marijuana can be an effective treatment for many of the common ailments suffered by individuals in the NFL such as chronic pain.”
Altieri also believes the NFL commissioner would be wise to listen to the feedback he is receiving from those who “actually put their health at risk on the field every week and leave medical decisions to the individual and their doctor.”
TELL US, do you care if NFL players use medical cannabis?