Time for the NFL to embrace medical marijuana

Time for the NFL to embrace medical marijuana
February 7, 2014, 3:15 pm
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As the NFL continues it’s uphill battle against concussions and post-concussion treatment, the league will have you believe that it finally has its priorities straight. Over and over, Roger Goodell will tell you that every decision and policy is made with the players’ health and best interests in mind. And over and over, those words prove empty. Here’s the latest example:
Last Friday, while delivering his state of the league address at the Super Bowl, Goodell reiterated the NFL’s stance on marijuana.
Of course, the issue was back in the headlines because the Broncos and Seahawks represent the only two NFL cities in which marijuana has been legalized. On a larger scale, because this country is in the midst of a weed revolution and it won’t be long before other states (and NFL cities) join the cause. And with that, it won’t be long before football (and all sports) run into more situations like what happened with the Seahawks Brandon Browner — who missed the Super Bowl on a marijuana-related suspension, despite living in a state where smoking isn’t against the law.
As time goes on, and de-criminalization continues to pick up steam, sports commissioners will have tough decisions to make. And until they make those decisions, there will be tough questions to answer. For instance: How can you punish a player for doing something that’s otherwise legal and doesn’t enhance his performance?
OK, so back to Friday’s “state of the league”, where Goodell was asked if the NFL has any plans to update its policy on marijuana. Naturally, he said no.
“It is still an illegal substance on a national basis,” Goodell told reporters. “It's something that is part of the collective bargaining agreement with the players.”
And you know what? That’s fine. He’s right. It’s a stubborn, but fair and logical take by Goodell. Nationally, marijuana is still largely an illegal substance. Like he said, the current marijuana policy is part of the CBA. It’s something the players agreed to. And just in general, no one expects Goodell to act hastily on this issue. No one expects him to simply snap his fingers and turn the NFL into one giant fish bowl.
Of course, at some point, this won’t even be an issue. Whether it’s 20 or 30 years down the road, marijuana will be legal and be treated the same way that alcohol is today. Still, for now, there’s no reason for the NFL to be at the forefront of the fight for legalized marijuana. No one expects them to be. But they should be ahead of the curve on any and all concussion research/treatment — they keep claiming that they are — yet in this case, once again, the league is failing.
The day before Friday’s press conference, Goodell appeared at an event called the “Head Health Challenge” and was asked whether the league might consider allowing the use of medicinal marijuana to treat concussions and other head injuries:
“I'm not a medical expert,” he said. “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.”
The mainstream reaction to Goodell’s statement was pretty favorable. At least compared to how people react to most of things he does. The majority of the headlines focused on him finally . . . maybe . . . being open to the idea of medicinal marijuana. That is, assuming that his “medical experts” determine that it can actually help with concussions.
But here are two problems with that:
1. Goodell’s medical experts don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to concussions.
2. The signs that Goodell claims the league will follow are already pointing in marijuana’s direction. There is already an abundance of proof to suggest that marijuana is a safe and effective concussion/post concussion treatment. There’s proof in last August’s issue of Cerebral Cortex (a respected scientific journal published by the Oxford University Press) which released results of a study that shows marijuana’s ability to activate the body’s cannabinoid receptors and lead to neuroprotective benefits, which “can help heal the brain after a traumatic injury, such as a concussion.”
There’s proof in the fact that the United States government actually has a patent on marijuana as a neuroprotectant.
There’s proof in the fact that 20 states have already legalized medicinal marijuana. That more and more states are going to follow. That despite what Roger Goodell’s doctors say, there are many other doctors, signs and pieces of evidence that suggest marijuana can be beneficial. That it’s safer and far less addictive than the pills and painkillers that many athlete’s turn to instead. That it’s safer than alcohol. That many of the players are smoking it anyway. That much like the war on drugs, the NFL’s war on marijuana is a losing battle and — from a medical perspective — a battle that is no longer worth fighting.
At the very least, there’s enough evidence to inspire the league to take a more progressive approach. Enough evidence that it’s absolutely crazy for Goodell to claim that he and his experts have no reason to believe that marijuana can benefit the players “in any context.”
The truth is that if the NFL is open to embracing the idea of medicinal marijuana, the time to embrace it is now. The proof Goodell claims to need is already here. The league just has to be willing to see it. And every day they wait is another day lost. Another day the NFL falls behind. Yet this is a league that continues to promise they’ll stay ahead. So what’s the deal?
As usual, it’s image. It’s the marijuana stigma. It’s Goodell not feeling comfortable with the idea of allowing his players to smoke pot in any capacity because of how that would look and how that might affect public perception of the NFL and its values. It’s about selfishness and greed.
It should be about medicine. And healing. And doing what’s right by the players. But unfortunately, in the NFL, it rarely is.
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