McLaughlin: NFL needs to stop sitting on the fence about marijuana policy

Curran Mclaughlin

With the latest Super Bowl quickly fading in the memory of football fans across the nation, an issue brought up by pure coincidence between the two participating teams has been in recent discussion by notable NFL players. During NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl press conference, he was asked whether the NFL would consider removing marijuana from the NFL Drug Policy’s list of banned substances. Even without such considerations, the NFL should take a stronger stance on the issue.

Goodell, however, seems to think that their stance is already clear.

“It is still an illegal substance on a national basis,” Goodell recently said. “It’s something that’s part of our collective bargaining agreement with our players.” He then confirmed that he does not see any change to the NFL’s drug policy in the near future. Goodell’s statement caused a few players to shed light on the current state of marijuana use in the NFL.

New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie briefly said in an interview that the NFL should not punish players who smoke pot for pain relief. To add to the argument, Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Ryan Clark agreed with Cromartie’s stance when he appeared on ESPN’s “First Take,” confirming that players around the NFL do smoke pot.

“I know guys on my team who smoke, and it’s not a situation where you think, ‘Oh, these are guys trying to be cool,'” Clark said. “These are guys who want to do it recreationally. A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, ‘If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin; it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.’ Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it.”

Clark is completely right.

Players are going to keep smoking marijuana because it’s a lesser of two evils when it comes to facing a chemical dependency on pain medication. Why wouldn’t professional football players take the chance with marijuana? The average length of an NFL career, which has been highly contested by the NFL Players Association, is around 6.8 years according to an NFL study. Pain is definitely a factor players will have to deal with during their careers, and some feel weed is the most effective and less destructive way to cope with the stress that comes to their bodies.

Since the NFL is against players smoking illegal substances they should be taking a lot more care to crack down and test players more often than just at the beginning of the season, where players will know when to stop smoking to pass the “random” test. NFL players can get away with smoking marijuana because the NFL doesn’t enforce their drug policy to the extent that the league claims it does. “There is one random test during [official team activities] and minicamps during the offseason, and everybody will be tested early in training camp. After that, there are no more tests.” Ryan Clark elaborated to ESPN on how players work around failing drug tests.

The NFL is sitting on their hands with the issue of marijuana use. They do not want to support an illegal substance because their athletes are viewed as role models to children and public supporters of the drug are upset by the negative stigma that pot brings. At the same time, they know that enforcing the ban may alienate and drive away players who would now face the possibility of suspension or even losing their jobs.

The NFL needs to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances. Not only should the NFL allow players to smoke, but they should also openly support the progression of marijuana and cannabis-based products as a medical alternatives for the players. The NFL could greatly benefit others by supporting and funding studies into how medical marijuana affects athletes who suffer from chronic pain or concussions. The results would ultimately give the NFL the information to make a clear-cut decision on whether or not they should support marijuana as a legitimate alternative to the medical options that they offer players in the league today.

The NFL should be looking to move forward, whether they decide to either support or reject marijuana. Either they are for or against marijuana. It is fine if the NFL does not want to let the players use the drug to ease their pain, but if that is the choice they are deciding to make, the NFL needs to actually crackdown on marijuana users. They cannot just stand by after the annual randomized test at the start of the season, they need to actually test players randomly throughout the season as well and help prevent marijuana abuse by their players.