The National Football League (NFL) has been riddled with controversies and player scandals for at least the last decade. Until less than 5 years ago, many players were given hefty suspensions or even lifetime bans for certain players who have had multiple offenses (ahem…Josh Gordon…ahem).
Now that a dozen U.S. states (and counting) have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, it begs to question whether now is the right time for fans and players alike to stand up against the NFL to demand that the league soften its stance on the marijuana. Let’s look at how pro football currently views marijuana, how that view differs from fans and athletes, and what players who have tested positive for cannabis are doing to fight their unjust suspensions.
Is Pro Football Pro-Cannabis?
Short answer: absolutely not (at least for now). The NFL under Commissioner Roger Goodell has continued the league’s historical hard line stance of keeping marijuana on the banned substance list. Goodell has indicated a reluctance to allow players to use cannabis in the past, even going so far as to tell ESPN in 2017 that “there are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term.”
The NFL has continued to stare public opinion in the face and give every reason under the sun as to why they are still labeling it as a performance enhancing drug (PED) in line with steroids. Even though tons of research has come out in recent years identifying the potential for cannabis to alleviate a range of ailments, the NFL has been headstrong in giving out lengthy bans for failed drug tests where marijuana is found.
Do Players Agree with the Ban?
For years, cannabis has been on the league’s list of banned substances with players having to undergo regular random tests specifically for cannabis. One of the most outspoken former NFL players, David Irving, used to play defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys until he was suspended indefinitely for having thrice violated the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Not long after this, Irving announced his retirement from pro football, having only been in the league for 4 seasons. Irving even went so far as to tell reporters that “it’s bulls–t how I have Xanax bars n hydros right next to me to take, given to me by the NFL of course. However, we can’t smoke the same weed the staff itself smokes.”
Irving brings up a great point about how opiod-based painkillers and cortisone shots are given out to athletes in mass to combat pain and swelling from their injuries. The long-term risk of painkiller addiction is a major issue as 40% of surveyed athletes said they suspected a teammate “became an addict because of NFL painkiller abuse.” As more major athletes are leaving the NFL during the prime of their careers to take care of their health, more players are catching on (some are even becoming industry spokespersons)!
It is because of this that three-quarters of 226 NFL players surveyed anonymously by ESPN were found to be in favor of legalizing medical marijuana nationwide. Many of these players and former players have said that marijuana helps them cope better with the rigors of playing football and have called for the NFL to relax its standards in that area over the years to no avail.
Can a New Collective Bargaining Agreement Help?
Historically, if an NFL player wanted to use cannabis or related products such as CBD, they would have to do so in secret without getting caught when it came time for their random tests. If the NFL were to relax its stance on cannabis products, that would allow players to use the full benefits of these products to treat dangerous concussions, possibly limiting the deadly development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) later in life.
To get the ball rolling with the NFL on this matter takes a ton of negotiations with only a small window of opportunity to do so. That window of opportunity is slowly opening while also coming to a close in the form of the renewal of the players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which is set to expire at the end of the 2019-2020 season.
What Does the Future Hold for Cannabis and the NFL?
As the NFL and the Players Union continue to negotiate their current labor deal past this season, fans and players will have to wait to see if any major developments occur. Good news is that commissioner Goodell has said in the past that the NFL would consider allowing players to use marijuana for pain management, but only if it were validated by medical and scientific experts. Although this is head and shoulders above historical language from Goodell and the NFL, we can all agree that their needs to be less talk and more action to push forward with a positive future for the league that fans and players can get behind for decades to come.