DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 29: Matt Barnes #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during a break in the action against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on February 29, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Since retiring, Barnes has come out of the green closet to help pro-athletes deal with the stigma of cannabis.
Golden State Warriors forward Matt Barnes told the BBC on Thursday that he “smoked before games,” although it sounds like he wasn’t high for the actual games. Apparently, he’d go to morning warm-ups, then “come home and smoke a joint, take a nap, shower, eat and go and play.”
Barnes has been using cannabis since he was 14, he said, but doesn’t consider himself dependent on it. His use was for pain, better sleep, and good old-fashioned “peace of mind.”
He also told the BBC that he considers cannabis use to be “widespread” in the NBA and that he’d discussed cannabis with coach Steve Kerr. Kerr himself admits to having tried cannabis, looking to treat back pain after two surgeries. In the same podcast in which Kerr admits to trying medical cannabis, he urges professional sports leagues to chill out.
“If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you got a lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin,” he said, before specifically calling out the NFL’s lenient culture around prescription pills.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern took a similar stance, saying in an interview with NBA-player-turned-MMJ-exec Al Harrington that, despite being staunchly anti-cannabis during his tenure as commissioner, Harrington’s arguments had won him over.
Barnes is not alone in suggesting that cannabis use is widespread among pro-athletes. In a recent Bleacher Report article featuring Barnes, as well as eleven other retired professional athletes, former NFL player Martellus Bennett estimated that “about 89 percent” of current football players smoke pot. On the NBA side of things, Kenyon Martin put the figure at 85 percent.
While the players speaking with the Bleacher Report are all retired, Mike James, a former Tampa Bay running back and now a free agent, made history recently by becoming the first active NFL player to request a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the league. He did it, he said, “because it was either cannabis or addiction.” Also, to help fight the stigma. Several other players submitted TUEs for medical cannabis after his, he says.
While the tide seems to be shifting towards increased acceptance of cannabis use in sports, cannabis remains off-limits in both the NBA and the NFL. Players like Barnes coming out of the cannabis closet post-retirement certainly help push the conversation on cannabis and pro-sports forward, but one does have to wonder how many retired champions it will take before the leagues realize that reefer madness isn’t real.