Goodell Leaves Door Open for Medical Marijuana



Banned substances are part of the sports culture.  There are two sides regarding this subject: the players who use it and the respective leagues who try to keep it out of the game.  This is no shock.  What if a league considered permitting medical marijuana use though?  Well, a particular league commissioner did not quite slam the door on that happening.

Last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made comments in response to the possibility of NFL players using medical marijuana. “I don’t know what’s going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries, but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine.”

Thursday, he had another chance to backtrack but surprisingly took his initial comments a step further. “I’m not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that. Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”

Well look at Mary Jane, easing her way on in.  I never imagined Goodell considering this.  Teams have put the ultimate decision in the hands of medical personnel when determining a player’s return to the field following a significant injury. It makes sense that Goodell would have medical personnel play a significant role in the introduction of medical marijuana as a treatment for pain, specifically concussions. The NFL had reached a $765 million settlement of concussion claims with retired players, until a judge had her say.

Coincidently, the Super Bowl contestants this year come from the two states where recreational use of the drug is legal: Colorado (Denver Broncos) and Washington (Seattle Seahawks) (Washington). The first recreational marijuana store opened in Colorado on January 1st. Following Seattle’s 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the internet dubbed Super Bowl XLVIII the “Super Bowl Bowl”, a reference to one of the instruments used to consume the drug.

You witty internet.

According to a report on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryan Gumble”, 50% – 60% of NFL players use marijuana, the majority to cope with pain. Ironically, a former Bronco tight end Nate Jackson contributed to the report, disclosing his use of the drug and the alleviation of pain it provided him.  “For me, personally, [marijuana as a painkilling alternative is] very viable. I prefer it. Marijuana was something that helped me, as the season wore on my body would start to break down. I was in a lot of pain.”

A current Bronco also chimed in earlier this week. He was not as supportive.

“I think with something like that, it may be helpful, but it is also something that can be abused. So I think that’s why it’s banned and that’s why it’s on the list, because it can be abused and it can backfire” says defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “It’s a touchy subject, but whatever is best, they’ll figure it out. Until then, I’m going to follow the rules.” Knighton also disputed the percentage of players being too high.

There is no way for Knighton, or the public, to truly know if that number is too high or too low. What is true is the notion of players abusing the drug that some people really need to improve their health. Consumption of prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Xanax, and Oxycontin come to mind.  The NFL would have its’ hands full putting some system in place to ensure the drug is used for medicinal, not recreational, purposes.

Like Knighton says, the subject is very touchy. Its’ illegality and stigma, primarily caused by its’ label as a gateway drug, strays some away from the conversation.  Do not count Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll among those fleeing.  “We have to continue to explore and compete to find ways that are going to make our game a better game and take care of our players in the best way possible. Regardless of what other stigmas may be involved, I think we have to do this because the world of medicine is trying to do the exact same thing and figure it out and they’re coming to some conclusions.”

It is fitting that Pete Carroll is the first coach to chime in. Since 2011, six Seahawks players have been suspended for PED use under Carroll’s reign. Cornerback Brandon Browner was indefinitely suspended in December 2013 for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Before that, infractions leveled by the NCAA on Carroll and USC shared as much spotlight as his high level of success did in collegiate athletics.  The perception is Pete Carroll fosters a “young, wild, and free atmosphere wherever he goes. Hard to argue that.

Regardless of what Goodell, Knighton, Carroll, or medical experts believe, it will be a long time before marijuana use, of any kind, is permitted for NFL players. Use of the drug is currently in violation of the league’s drug policy in the collective bargaining agreement.  That deal does not expire until 2021.  There are twenty more states, including Washington, that permit medical marijuana use.  Anyone else envision fake doctor’s notes from players?  Me neither.

Follow O’Cephus T. Starks

Twitter: @otstarks

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