CBS recently rejected an ad for Super Bowl LIII specifically because it was cannabis-related. Acreage Holdings, a multi-state medical marijuana company, was trying to decide between a 30-second and 60-second ad on the life-saving benefits of a plant still out of reach to millions when they were informed that their ad would not be accepted. The countless beer, wine, and fast food commercials will, however, proceed as usual.
“Under our broadcast standards, we do not currently accept cannabis-related advertising,” CBS said in a statement on January 22.
Different Worlds – Same Country
Even though the plant is recreationally legal in 11 states and medically legal in 33 states to varying degrees, the NFL still considers cannabis a banned substance. Likewise, it’s still classified as a Schedule I drug like heroin and cocaine on a federal level. This means you can consume the plant legally in Colorado, go to Kansas and potentially face a serious felony-level charge for mere possession.
The Bigger Issue at Hand
The decision by CBS to reject the medical cannabis commercial has brought back into the spotlight a bigger issue. This issue has been growing with urgency as more states move to legalize the plant completely – that issue being, more NFL players gain legal access to something other than opioids that can help manage their constant pain but are still banned from using it because of the very game that physically hurts them so much.
An Opioid Crisis
This egregious disconnect between society’s shifting views on cannabis and the NFL’s present stance is more apparent than ever. The spotlight on this issue also uncovers NFL’s current and past methods for handling pain management for players. In 2015, more than 1,800 former NFL players filed that the NFL’s 32 team’s trainers and doctors negligently supplied anti-inflammatory painkillers and narcotics to help their players stay on the field.
The players were allegedly provided painkillers and anti-inflammatories without their knowledge or any warning of potential side effects – and not just a forgettable amount that might be shrugged off. On average, per the complaint and in 2012, each team was prescribed with 2,270 doses of narcotics and 5,777 doses of anti-inflammatories. If split evenly among all players, this would be roughly 150 doses each year per player.
Long-term, chronic use of the primary anti-inflammatory injection, Toradol, being used is not approved. There were memos from trainers and team physicians collected as evidence for the complaint that states the prescription drugs were off-label, though higher-ups from the NFL deny accusations.
Risk of stroke and heart attack can increase from 10% to 50% with regular use of anti-inflammatories, per the American Heart Association. This steep use of anti-inflammatories and narcotic painkillers potentially open a risk to much greater health issues when compared to the regular physical disrepair most former NFL players find themselves in.
The truth is, when you break it down to the bare facts, NFL players need something to manage their pain – it’s just a matter of what you give them to deliver the least damaging negative outcome long-term. Whether they play for one season or nine, many former players find themselves in pain for life, sometimes in a vast portion of their entire body.
The latest spotlight on the issue of the NFL and drugs isn’t the first time this has been brought to the public’s eye. In 2014, just the year before, hundreds of players claimed NFL and the trainers were improperly treating them with pain medications instead of appropriate medical care. This was filed in a complaint that was later dismissed.
What was in the Ad?
We’ve posted the video of the Acreage Holdings ad below so that you can get the full idea of what over 100 million people could’ve seen during the Super Bowl, but it’s also important to talk about the bigger things that were in the video itself. The ringing truth that cannabis has already saved lives in the states where patients legally have access only reinforces how many millions are cut off through legal means. As legalization and society’s growing approval of the plant grows and spreads, we’re able to learn more about the positive things cannabis can do for the human body.
Check out the Acreage Holdings’ medical marijuana ad that CBS rejected here
Cannabis Use is Already Happening
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned just quite yet. Even though cannabis use is banned in the NFL, it’s still happening – in fact, the number of players already consuming the plant might be startlingly high. When being interviewed by Adam Lefkoe and Chris Simms on a Bleacher Report Podcast, former tight end Martellus Bennett said about 89% of NFL players smoke cannabis.
Bennett goes on to further explain that the players don’t use it to get high. Rather, they use it as anti-inflammation and pain treatment. The long-term use of this is, in comparison, a safer alternative to opioid painkillers and other prescription drugs. Besides the ban with the NFL, the players that do consume are generally in jurisdictions where medical marijuana has already been legalized.
Though there have been steps – albeit baby steps – that the NFL has taken to reduce the penalty given if a player’s drug test pops positive on cannabis. A player must pop two positive drug tests before they are suspended for abuse of drugs. After the first positive drug test, they are put into a “Stage Two” Intervention Program designed by the NFL. This “intervention” program can last up to 24 months, and the player is put through more frequent drug testing while they’re in the program.
NFL Should Look to Other Leagues for Guidance on the Issue
The two-strike rule is still harsh when compared to other sports leagues on both the college and national level. The NHL, for example, is a similarly rough contact sport that takes a mighty toll on a player’s brain and body. Their approach to a recreational drug policy is worlds different, though. Their primary concern is limiting the use of performance enhancing drugs.
While other drugs of abuse or labeled recreational drugs such as cannabis are also tested for, they are anonymously reported on a survey basis. The results are also privately analyzed, with the identity of the player only being revealed if a positive test shows a dangerously high level. If the level is enough to cause concern for the safety or health of the player, only then do they even question the player.
The player can provide a medical explanation or be routed for further treatment and evaluation – but not punishment or penalty. We can only hope that one day, the NFL can follow similar suit to stop penalizing their players for something that is only helping them keep playing the rough contact sport they put themselves through.