First it was a handful of states that decided to make medical marijuana legal. A few more states then followed suit. Then both Washington and Colorado, thanks to ballot initiatives, decided to legalize the sale of retail marijuana. For many, that was a huge step toward ending the failed “War on Drugs” as we know it. Make no mistake about it, when other states see the amount of money being made through the sales of recreational marijuana, they, too, will get in line.
And while the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is probably the biggest pot news of late, a larger story is looming on the horizon. Could the N.F.L. be the next organization to allow medical marijuana treatments for players? For some reason, maybe it's the fact that two legal marijuana cities – Denver and Seattle – are playing in the Super Bowl (no pun intended), but the conversation is gaining ground.
Last week, when N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell was alongside General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt announcing 16 winners of a $20 million “Head Health Challenge,” saying that if medical studies prove marijuana can be used to treat football players’ injuries and the pain resulting from those injuries, he would consider it.
“I'm not a medical expert,” Goodell told USA Today. “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.”
While the N.F.L.’s medical experts aren’t saying that right now, players are already using marijuana on a regular basis for recreational purposes and, for former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, for easing pain. On HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumble, Jackson said he smoked marijuana for pain management purposes, going on to estimate that half of the league’s players use marijuana.
“For me personally, very viable,” Jackson said on Real Sports. “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.”
Topping off all of this marijuana media attention, Pete Carroll, who is in the national spotlight as his team heads to the Super Bowl on Sunday, echoes Goodell’s sentiment that if marijuana can help players with their injuries, and science says so, the league should use it.
“We have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game, and take care of our players in whatever way possible,” Carroll told Yahoo Sports. “Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this, because the world of medicine is doing this.”
So I don’t know if all of this media attention with the use of marijuana in the N.F.L. will lead to anything big. But as Jackson said, he used marijuana to ease his pain, and it worked.
Dr. Raphael Machoulam, in describing his research in the field to Real Sports, reports his discovery that injured brain tissue in mice does heal, with use of a marijuana compound. He believes those benefits could translate to injured human brains as well.
As the effects of traumatic head injuries become better understood, at some point we are going to have to measure our love for the game against the realities of what it can do to its players. Can we honestly love a sport that can often injure and even kill its players? In many ways, the league is confronting this reality already, and has recently settled a class-action lawsuit with former players that many believe doesn’t go far enough to help those former players who continue to experience the effects of brain injuries.
If science really does prove that marijuana could help N.F.L. players, would the league be so gutsy and forward-thinking to allow players to use the drug? How big would it be if Goodell announced at the beginning of next season that N.F.L. doctors have concluded that players could benefit from the use of pot throughout the season as prescribed by team doctors? This would be a bigger story than Washington and Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana tenfold.
During football season, the N.F.L., with its televised games, player endorsements and products, is in nearly every living room across the country. To have that organization come out and say, “Because we care about the safety and well-being of our players, we, the N.F.L., endorse the use of medical marijuana by our players.”
Now I know those of us living here in Bronco Country and those voters in Seattle wouldn’t bat an eye at such announcement. We’ve already done it. But imagine that announcement in some of the more conservative parts of the country. The N.F.L. would be boycotted. Public outcry against the N.F.L. would go viral because those communities don’t want to see marijuana in a sport that they hold dear to their heart.
I don’t know if this will ever come to that. Probably not. But if it did, those who support the N.F.L. as it is but don’t support the healing benefits of marijuana would have to have a serious conversation with themselves about the sport that they love and the drug that they hate. What’s worse? Marijuana or the effects of 10 concussions? A joint or a hard crack back block?
Who knows? Maybe medical marijuana is the key to the survival of the N.F.L. Ten, 20 years from now, doctors could find that the effects of concussions could be reversed with the help of marijuana products. At that point, you would think the N.F.L. would jump on board with that study immediately because, after all, the league is dedicated to the health of its players.
Of course, I am jumping ahead to conclusions that may or may not have truth in them. Whatever the case, professional football has a head injury problem. How long will we be able to watch this game before the game must be changed substantially (flag football) or science finds a way to stop and/or heal head injuries in the sport.
You never know, marijuana could come to football’s rescue.