Fewer young Americans are getting into football as more light is shed on the damage and suffering experienced by the bodies of professional players. The National Football League, which fights to maintain a status quo no matter how much information about injury and concussion spreads, is looking archaic in practice. Ahead of the NFL playoffs, a group of professional football players have united to deliver a message to the league: it’s time to allow players to use cannabis.
“The men who play American football are subject to a life of injury, pain, and disease,” said a group of NFL players in a sort of harmony, including Ricky Williams, Chris Kluwe and Tecmo Bowl unbalancer Bo Williams. “That’s why I smoke pot…That’s why I smoked weed when I played. It has without a doubt reduced the amount of pain that I’ve lived with. It’s my body. I know. But for some reason the major North American, non-Canadian football league refuses to allow players to use cannabis. Instead of allowing for safe, natural healing the sport pushes players towards addictive narcotic painkillers with serious side-effects.”
The players are referring to the NFL, which has been acting sluggish about allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. Until 2014, the League was strict about barring players from partaking in cannabis. If 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of fluid were detected in a player’s body, they could face suspension. In 2014, the player union managed to loosen the rules, but only to 35 nanograms. (The cutoff for employee drug tests is usually 50 ng.)
Recently, the NFL said it might consider listening to studies about cannabis and pain management, but in the same breath, Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, was pessimistic about the prospect.
“Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing,” said Goodell. It does have an addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. All of those things have to be considered… we’ve been studying that through our advisers. To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
To some doctors, a ‘maybe’ isn’t good enough. The Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, a joint alliance between doctors and athletes, are trying to force the NFL’s hand about a subject that’s much touchier than pain management: concussions.
“There is some early data that cannabis does play a role in neuroprotection,” said Dr. Suzanne Sisley of the Doctors for Cannabis Regulation’s board. “This is the kind of science we’ve put in front of the NFL, hoping they would reconsider their antiquated policies.”
Some doctors believe that cannabis can help prevent the detrimental effects of concussions and, even after the fact, help reduce brain swelling and spur development of new neural tissue, which the sport seems to damage more than any other.
“Cannabis isn’t a drug,” closes the NFL player’s statement in the video. “It is a medicine.”