Advocacy for medical weed may be opening minds, but the highly lucrative industry of professional sports seems keen to hold a steadfast prohibitionary stance in spite of a growing vocal outcry from players both past and current. Just a few weeks ago we referenced former NFL legend Jim McMahon’s public declaration that marijuana helped him battle his addiction to prescription painkillers
. Now he’s joined by former NBA guard for the Chicago Bulls, Jay Williams, another ex-NFL quarterback, Jake Plummer, and current Baltimore Ravens tackle, Eugene Monroe, who are all proponents in varying degrees of exploring marijuana as a treatment for sports-related injuries. It’s no surprise that their arguments seem to be falling on deaf ears.
The Shortcomings of Prescription Painkillers
We as spectators are conditioned to expect a certain sense of brutality from sports. Likewise, the players acknowledge this violence when they’re signing their lucrative contracts. But the cameras rarely follow the players off the courts and fields. They retire young and out of the public eye where we’re spared the imagery of scars that never quite heal. Historically, these vicious aches and pains have been treated with a steady stream of highly addictive prescription painkillers. Williams admitted to FOXBusiness.com
, “It’s easy for doctors to prescribe you Oxycontin…and look, I was addicted to it for 5 plus years. I know.” Likewise, McMahon was given a parting gift from his 15-years with the NFL of memory lapses, impairments to both sight and speech, and chronic headaches bundled in a prescription painkiller addiction. Over the years, it’s become increasingly obvious that an endless stream of prescriptions for addictive drugs with nightmarish side effects are a less-than-ideal way to treat our professional athletes. But proposals to pursue marijuana or CBD oil as an alternative means of treatment has been a tough sell.
Non-Psychoactive Forms of Treatment
Tuesday morning found Monroe taking to Twitter, a hotbed for celebrity grievances, with some genuinely poignant pleas in favor of CBD oil. Monroe, who currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens, has pointed out on several occasions that CBD oil removes the psychoactive THC responsible for the high to which the professional sports industry so strongly objects. Naturally, the NFL’s stubborn hardline against non-psychoactive treatment baffles Monroe. One of his tweets passionately affirms “This is not about marijuana. It’s about a more sensible approach to health care and research so we can protect the game and its players!”
Like Monroe, Plummer has petitioned the NFL to be more open to the use of CBD oil as not only a viable but safer treatment for players of violent sports. His own use of CBD oil left him contemplating a return to football so it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm for the medication. With the NFL seemingly indifferent to their arguments, Plummer and Monroe are both pumping their own money into a program designed to facilitate a partnership between Johns Hopkins University
and a non-profit medical marijuana research group called Realm of Caring
. The players are hoping to fund important research that will prove whether CBD oil is an effective treatment against chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disorder resulting in deterioration of the brain. Recently, the NFL acknowledged that concussions, par for the course for any professional footballer, are a direct catalyst for CTE. Yet the NFL shows no motion toward funding any cannabis research based on this acknowledgement.
Penalties for Medical Weed
The NBA continues to offer a hardline against cannabis use of any kind, reinforcing their word with 4 drug tests per season, conducted at random. The NFL may seem softer by comparison as recent years have seen them lessen the severity of a positive drug test. But just last month Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory was issued a suspension of the 4 first games of the season due to a failed drug test. In the NBA, failure of a drug test results in mandatory entry into a substance abuse program with subsequent violations resulting in a $25,000.00 fine and suspension for 5 games of the season. These aren’t minor slaps on the wrist for a joint’s worth of relief. Despite this, Williams still approximates that between 75% - 80% of NBA players are using marijuana in some form. While that’s not exactly a scientific statistic, it does lead us to question why the sports industry is so hesitant to examine a form of treatment from which its players get enough benefit to risk such hefty and near-certain penalties.
Why the Sports Industry Ignores its Players
If the NFL and NBA could be bothered to actually dignify these players’ well-contemplated arguments with a response, they would possibly cite the much-publicized account of former New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones who turned himself in to police during a bad experience with synthetic marijuana. But comparing medical weed to synthetic marijuana, a completely different drug, is apples and oranges.
Williams admits that the NBA’s refusal to budge on their drug policies largely comes down to branding. Likewise, the NFL’s stance cautiously mirrors the public trends and they likely believe that endorsing marijuana research would negatively impact their brand. The NFL also has heavy sponsorship ties to the alcohol industry. In the world of American football, “bud” will probably always correlate to Budweiser. But it’s only going to get harder for the NFL and NBA to ignore the growing outcry of voices demanding sensible, healthy treatment for injuries sustained on the job. As Williams so astutely put it, “It’s about time some of these brands like the NBA and MLB become a little bit more progressive and start thinking forward instead of being held captive in the past.”