The National Football League is one of the most powerful and successful businesses in the world. But unlike many of the world’s other most successful and largest businesses (Apple, Google, Microsoft, McDonalds etc.) the NFL seems determined to remain stuck in the past. Despite how the NFL acts, the world is changing and given the physical and mental demands professional football places on its player, the league should be progressive and allow the use of marijuana.
Last week the Dallas Cowboys learned that second-year defensive end Randy Gregory will be suspended for the first four games of 2016 because he tested positive for using marijuana. The question that many can’t seem to understand is, why?
This is not a free Randy Gregory post based on the fact that he plays for the Cowboys but rather a look at common sense. How does the use of marijuana among professional football players hurt the game other than in the minds of a diminishing number of backwards-thinking old timers that still water their grass with the garden hose and yell at cars that play music too loud?
Unlike performance enhancing drugs, marijuana has no impact on a player’s size, strength, speed or ability to perform on the field. In fact, if the NFL is actually interested in the overall health of its players it would recognize the benefits marijuana could have for the men that make the NFL owners billions of dollars.
Consider Randy Gregory as a prime example. After Dallas drafted Gregory, Dallas Morning News reported that sources were claiming Gregory suffered from bipolar disorder (though Gregory is yet to confirm that he has that diagnosis).
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According to Medical News Today Medical News Today a study conducted at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Long Island, NY, in collaboration with a team at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City examined the impact of cannibus use on people suffering from bipolar disorder.
"“Results from our analysis suggest that subjects with bipolar disorder and history of (cannabis use) demonstrate significantly better neurocognitive performance, particularly on measures of attention, processing speed, and working memory.” the researchers wrote.“These findings are consistent with a previous study that demonstrated that bipolar subjects with history of cannabis use had superior verbal fluency performance as compared to bipolar patients without a history of cannabis use. Similar results have also been found in schizophrenia in several studies.”"
Furthermore, four states currently allow recreational marijuana use, including Colorado (home of the Denver Broncos) and Washington (home of the Seattle Seahawks). In addition, 18 more states permit marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
Just as same-sex marriage gained ground and eventually became nationally recognized, soon marijuana will be decriminalized across the country. Yet as a private business, the NFL does have the right to prohibit its employees from using whichever substances it wishes.
However, NFL players are speaking out on the issue explaining how marijuana is actually more than just a means to get a good buzz.
Corner back Antonio Cromartie, a free agent that played for the New York Jets last season told the website Thisis50.com, that players are going to ignore the league’s band on pot regardless of the rules.
"“They [the NFL] need to just let it go…We’re just going to do it anyway. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.” Link"
The former Pro Bowl player went on to say that he has never smoked anything but that many players do. For a number of those players, there is a valid reason for smoking marijuana.
Former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley (a former Dallas Cowboy) estimated that close to half of his former teammates were using pot when he played.
"“They are leaning on it to cope with the pain,” said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. “They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game.” Link"
Currently, medical professionals are learning how marijuana helps people manage pain. John Hopkins University behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey says that pot could help athletes manage the side effects of the world’s most physical game.
"“There’s pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it’s a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated.” Link"
So why should the NFL punish a player like Randy Gregory, who may or may not have a mental disorder, for using a natural substance to alleviate his symptoms? What is worse, having the American public, of which over 50% support the national legalization of recreational marijuana, know that its players use weed or dealing with situations like the Jovan Belcher incident?
In 2012, the former Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker killed his girlfriend before driving to the Chiefs’ team facility and taking his own life while members of the organization, who were there to help, looked on in horror. We will never know if Belcher was suffering from a mental illness but what if the use of marijuana helps players that do have a mental illness and it helps them remain emotionally level enough to keep from taking such drastic measures?
In the spirit of transparency, I feel it necessary to admit that I do not use marijuana. Though I live in Colorado where it is as legal as beer or potato chips, I simply do not have the need to use it.
However, many people in America, from children with disorders such as severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Autism to NFL players struggling with persistent pain find relief in marijuana. They prefer using an herb that has been a medicinal remedy for centuries rather than relying on man made chemically altered drugs for help.
The NFL should afford its players the opportunity to make that choice. But since it has taken that choice away, the NFL may be forcing some players to make far worse decisions.