Addiction, Medical Marijuana

NFL Calls an Audible on Cannabis Policy


NFL Calls an Audible on Cannabis Policy

The NFL drug policy sounds familiar. It’s reflective of the American cultural attitudes about drug use and steeped in punishment and threats rather than health and science  and all wrapped in the confusion of “but alcohol is ok?”  Sunday football is an American tradition, its revered and soaked in alcohol. Arguably, when football viewing rises, so does alcohol consumption and when alcohol consumption rises, so does a whole host of other things, few, if any of them, good. So what’s with the NFL and cannabis? 

The bravado of the young men currently playing in the NFL is such that they don’t consider, or don’t care, about the long term fallout of playing in the NFL. It takes a toll and 40s sneaks up faster than any 22 year understands. Most retired players have ailments from their playing days that will plague them. While it doesn’t seem to be conclusive, there does seem to be a consensus that NFL playing time shortens lifespans, more so for lineman. The NFL has because a celebrated rap video rife with  violence and ensuing injuries. The byproduct of the chronic pain? Opiates and addiction. 

Many players report chronic injuries and pain and would like to be able to access medical marijuana as a way to treat and manage pain. To date, the league hasn’t been pliable with the “just say no” drug policy drafted in the Reagan era. It’s doesn’t make sense. While alcohol is nowhere near the banned substance list, marijuana is. The message is mixed at best and more accurately hypocritical.  “Intoxication is fine as long as the intoxicating substance has the potential to be lethal.” How about the message for the chronic conditions as a result of playing: “no reason to be in pain, you can have these pills”, mixed with alcohol will increase the likelihood of death but no cannabis. 

While the NFL is a unique population, sports will always reflect the and lead culture .Americans look to sports systems for valuable cultural leadership. Would the civil rights marches have happened if Jackie Robinson didn’t play for Brooklyn? Likely it would have but the  act of seeing Robinson on the field playing alongside white players gave America pause for thought. If we can play baseball together, can we serve in the armed forces, attend school, and work together? Years later, there was a reported rumor that Mike Piazza was gay. His statement, quietly made and quickly forgotten was meaningful. He said very simply “I’m not gay but if I were, why would it matter?”  A small but important shift. 

Somehow, alcohol moves stealthy among us, very seldom is it indicted for the dangerous substance it is. Opiates have created havoc in communities and among certain populations, all the while a safer alternative, cannabis, continues to be seen as crime or gateway to certain crime and death. What could shift this thinking? Certainly logic, common sense, and research are only doing so much. While many attitudes are reframing, old ones linger and the longer they do, the more people will suffer. Cannabis is a safer alternative for recreational and medicinal use. 

What could shift marijuana into the flow of American life would be for the NFL to make a statement changing their policy. The NFL could end prohibition and allow players to use a medical protocol for pain and traumatic brain injuries. Every coach knows, if you don’t change the play, you’ll get the same result. Allowing players to swill booze and swallow pills is neither compassionate nor effective. The players themselves are seeing the value of replacing potentially dangerous substances for safer cannabis. The NFL could lead the way for America, like dominoes the systems would fall, replacing antiquated and debunked theories with science and common sense. It seems as though the NFL may be softening on its approach to retired players and pain management. There is a long way to go before this is a easily accessible option for NFL players but once they arrive at the inevitability of it, that will help millions of people. 

Author: Joe Schrank