Last week marked 6 months since I published the first article on the Need for Cannabis in Professional Sports. In that time frame, a lot has happened – we have a new President in office, The Golden State Warriors won the NBA title, O.J. Simpson has been granted parole and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus performed their final show. So what has been done regarding cannabis and sports?

Two Leagues Stepping Up

In the NFL, it appeared that Roger Goodell put an end to any thought of the league changing its current viewpoint on players using cannabis in April when he responded to a question about allowing cannabis in the NFL on ESPN’s Mike & Mike with the following:

“I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use, is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. And it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. “

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Again, this made it seem that the NFL was not going to give in to the pressure of looking into allowing players to use cannabis as an alternative method of pain management. However, 3 months after Roger Goodell made that statement, it was announced that the NFL will work with the Players Association to study the potential benefits that cannabis can have in managing pain for players. What contributed to this change of thinking by the NFL? About a week before this announcement, a study done on the brains of deceased NFL players was released. This study showed that out of 111 NFL brains that were studied, 110 of those were found to show signs of Chronis Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. For those unfamiliar with it, CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by traumatic hits to the head and is the biggest concern in the NFL right now. More and more professional football players are retiring early due to the potential effects that this could have on them down the road. Here is a list of some recent players who have retired early due to the fear of CTE:

  • A.J. Tarpley, 23 years old – Undrafted linebacker for the Buffalo Bills retired in 2016 after suffering his 3rd and 4th concussions in his career (college and NFL).
  • Chris Borland, 24 years old – 3rd round pick retired in 2015 after 1 year in the NFL and was quoted on Outside the Lines saying “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk”.
  • D’Brickashaw Ferguson, 32 years old – 3x Pro Bowler, who only missed one snap in his 10 year career and had offers to continue playing, retired after the 2015 season from feeling “a bit betrayed by the people or committees put in place by the league who did not have my best interests at heart” after he did more research of his own into the causes and consequences of CTE.
  • John Urschel, 26 years old – Offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens who retired during Training Camp of this year and made the announcement 2 days after the results of the CTE study came out.

Because of this shocking discovery, the potential of cannabis playing a role in neuroprotection, and the growing trend of players retiring early due to the fear of CTE, the NFL did a complete 180-degree turn on their stance of cannabis to now allow research into implementing it in some form.

This is a huge milestone in the fight to allow professional athletes the choice of using cannabis as an alternative form of pain treatment but one that won’t be decided without the proper research done and steps taken, meaning don’t expect anything done in the near future. In the meantime, what the NFL should look into is changing their punishment for testing positive for THC. There is no better example of this than when you look at and compare Josh Gordon to Ezekiel Elliott. Josh Gordon, one of the most promising young wide receivers in the league, has been out of the NFL for THREE YEARS for testing positive for THC in his system (all be it, for more than one positive test) while Ezekiel Elliott, who has been dealing with ongoing domestic violence allegations along with a slew of other off the field issues, was only suspended SIX GAMES for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. This tweet just about sums this up:professional sports

However, Roger Goodell and the NFL agreeing to begin studying cannabis for its players is still a significant step of acknowledgment from the most popular and lucrative sports league and one that will hopefully end up with cannabis becoming a new form of pain management for the NFL, which could propel other leagues to do the same.

So which sports league may be the next to entertain allowing cannabis use for their athletes? In the last article, I discussed how Steve Kerr had recently discussed allowing cannabis use for players in the NBA after it was discovered that he tried using cannabis for pain relief following his back surgery. So what has changed since? As part of the NBA’s trip to Israel for “Basketball Without Borders”, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about medical marijuana use and if the NBA would adapt some sort of rule to allow this for players. His response was:

“I would say it’s something we will look at. I’m very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana. My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it’s something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we’ll be open to it. Hopefully, there’s not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there’s not as much need for it.”

This sounds great, right? That quote was followed with this:

“I don’t see the need for any changes right now. I mean, it’s legal in certain states. But as you know, our players are constantly traveling, and it might be a bit of a trap to say we’re going to legalize it in these states, but no, it’s illegal in other states. And then players get in a position where they’re traveling with marijuana, and we’re obviously getting into trouble.”professional sports

With how often NBA players travel and the laws varying in each state, this is a very valid concern as he doesn’t want to encourage his players to violate the law as this would put the NBA in a tight spot as it would seem like they are encouraging players to break the laws in states where there are no cannabis regulations in place. Until the laws change and cannabis is federally legal, you most likely won’t see anything change with the NBA.

So in the past 6 months, two of the top professional sports leagues have made announcements that they are going to begin looking into the how they can implement some form of Cannabis for pain management for their players. Even though we won’t see any immediate changes, this is still a huge step in Professional Sports.  

Players Stepping Up

In the last article, I brought up players such as Ricky Williams (NFL), Kyle Turley (NFL), Todd Herremans (NFL), Nate Diaz (UFC), Ross Rebagliati (Snowboarder), and Jim McMahon (NFL) who have been and continue advocating for cannabis to be allowed in their perspective sports. Since then, a new organization has stepped up and is advocating for this Industry – it’s called Athletes for Care.


This non-profit was created by a group of former athletes who wanted to take their health into their own hands and all agree that cannabis has been beneficial in their recovery after hanging up their cleats, sticks, gloves, etc. With 27 players currently a part of this organization, this is the largest and one of the most influential advocacy groups for the cannabis industry. Out of those 27 athletes, some of the more notable ones include:

  • Bas Rutten – A three-time Pancrase (MMA) World Champion, one-time UFC heavyweight champion and recent inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame, Bas has a new role as the MMA League Ambassador for A4C after he was able to use CBD to ween himself off of opiates.
  • Cliff Robinson – Former NBA star and one of the first big men to be able to stretch the floor and hit the three, Cliff has taken the dive into the cannabis industry as he’s started his own business called “Uncle Spliffy”. Along with opening up his business, Cliff is a huge advocate for this industry and travels the country speaking at different events and conferences to share his story.
  • Riley Cote – Former Philadelphia Flyer, Riley was known more for his fists than his stick which in part is what led him to discover the benefits of CBD after he hung up the skates in 2010. After learning more about CBD and seeing the benefits for himself, he founded Hemp Heals Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for Hemp/Cannabis along with being the NHL League Ambassador for A4C.
  • Floyd Landis – In his prime, Floyd was one of the top professional cyclists in the world and won the 2006 Tour De France, only to have it stripped from him after a failed drug test. This, along with a serious injury he suffered, sent him into a downward spiral of depression that led to becoming dependent on opiates. After moving to Colorado, he was able to use cannabis to cope with his pain management and opiate addiction to regain control of his life. He now runs Floyd’s of Leadville in Colorado and continues to advocate for cannabis anywhere that he can.
  • Marvin Washington – A former Super Bowl winning defensive end, Marvin has stepped into the limelight as he (along with 4 other plaintiffs) brought forward a lawsuit again Attorney General Jeff Sessions to declassify cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug. According to the New York Post, the suit “challenges the constitutionality of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act that classified marijuana as a dangerous substance, in the same category as heroin or LSD”. Just like he used to bring the heat against opposing quarterbacks, he’s back at it again but this time against the Attorney General.
  • The rest of the A4C team includes Charlie Adams, Julie Anthony, Chris Borland, Eben Britton, Greta Gaines, Marques Harris, Todd Herremans, Nate Jackson, Treyous Jarrells, Matt Lashoff, Leonard Marshall, Grant Mattos, Darren McCarty, Jim McMahon, Eugene Monroe, Derrick Morgan, Lorenzo Neal, Jake Plummer, Frank Shamrock, Shaun Smith, Rick Upchurch, and Demetrin Veal. You can check out the bios for all of the athletes here.

What’s Next

In the last 6 months, we have seen a lot spoken about implementing new rules for athletes and it’s terrific that the conversation is being had – BUT there hasn’t been any action taken. Yes, the NFL has said that they are going to work with the Players Association to begin looking into the potential that cannabis can have for their players but until we actually see and hear about them doing it this is just talk. And yes, Adam Silver has said that he is interested in learning more about the science behind cannabis but until the federal legality of the plant changes this is again just talk.

What we need to begin seeing is action – these leagues need to begin taking action and implementing rules that allow players to take back control of their pain management and not be continually given prescription pills that lead players to opiate dependency. Until action is taken, we will continue seeing players addicted to opiates, getting suspended for having THC in their system, and retiring early due to not being allowed to take the precautions that they feel are necessary to properly protect themselves and their well-being.

To the NFL, NBA and other leagues credit, their actions are limited until the Federal Government acts as well and that action is in the form of removing cannabis from the Schedule 1 list of drugs. Until this happens, it makes it near impossible for any professional sports league to take any real action due to the fear of how the federal government will respond. In the NFL, they can only look to reduce penalties for players who test positive for THC but won’t be able to fully implement any form of pain management until this change is made. And like Adam Silver said, the NBA can’t do anything for its players until the landscape of cannabis changes as it cannot be subject to putting its players in the position to break the law. This is not only hindering what these leagues can do, but it’s also providing an excuse for them to not act. If the federal government listens to reason and does make this change, this won’t only benefit professional athletes but it will completely change this Industry for everyone involved.

With everything that could and should be done, when we look back in another 6 months what do you think we will have seen changed?

“Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.”-Unknown

To read more articles by Max Meade, click here.

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