The issue of marijuana use in the NFL has been around for a long time. Though the plant is banned under the league’s substance abuse policy, it has long been assumed that many players light up in order to deal with the aches, pains, and breaks that are a daily part of life in the NFL.
In May, former Lions offensive tackle and current ESPN analyst Lomas Brown validated these assumptions. Brown made headlines when he said that at least 50 percent of NFL players smoke weed.
“I just don’t think you’ll be able to curb this,” Brown added.
In recent years, as states legalize medical marijuana, and, in the cases of Colorado and Washington, legalize the plant entirely, the issue has become even more pressing. If marijuana is known to have medical benefits -- especially for pain -- then why are players who live in states where medical marijuana is allowed forbidden from smoking it?
True, the NFL is a private corporation, and as such has the right to set whatever substance use rules they see fit for their employees. But the overwhelming majority of businesses defer to state laws when it comes to marijuana use policies.
So why is the NFL, an organization whose employees are famous for pounding shots of liquor and abusing oxycodone pills in order to cope with the pain that comes with their job, so reluctant to let their players smoke marijuana? It’s a fair question that deserves an answer.
After all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not ban all marijuana use. It only bans illegal marijuana use. So if a player lives in a state where using marijuana is legal, why should they be punished by the league if caught smoking?
Though NFL executives won’t give a straight answer to this question, they do appear to at least be keeping an open mind on the issue. Commissioner Roger Goodell was explicitly asked by a reporter recently whether NFL players would be permitted to smoke weed in states where it is legal. Instead of saying just saying “no” -- as NFL representatives have in the past -- he left the door open for future possibilities.
"I don't know what's going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries,” Goodell said, “but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine.”
Regardless of how long the NFL takes to adjust their marijuana use policy, one thing is clear: players will be smoking weed in the mean time. After being arrested for selling marijuana and cocaine in 2011, former Cowboys and Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd told Peter King in an interview that he and dozens of his teammates smoked weed daily. Most players know when they will be tested each year, Hurd said, so the key to passing screenings is not abstaining from drugs altogether, but rather knowing at what times of the year you should stop.
It seems that in the NFL -- just as with the rest of the country -- marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. Slowly but surely, lawmakers across the country are realizing this and changing laws accordingly. Let’s see if the NFL can keep up.