The commissioner of the NFL said the league might let players use medical marijuana to treat head injuries if medical experts ever sign off on the idea.
Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared at an event to announce the first winners of the Head Health Challenge, which was sponsored by the NFL and General Electric. He stuck to his earlier comments about MMJ.
“I’m not a medical expert,” Goodell said. “We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that. Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”
Marijuana has long been a topic of contention within the league. According to a recent broadcast of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” on HBO, as many as 60 percent of players use cannabis regularly – many of them to treat pain. Weed is well known for its analgesic properties and is often recommended for chronic pain.
Still, weed is strictly banned in the NFL, with no exceptions. Penalties can be severe: In 2006, running back Ricky Williams was suspended for a year and a half for repeat violations. Broncos linebacker Von Miller was suspended for six games out of the 2013 season, allegedly for marijuana use.
Indeed, punishment for marijuana can be stricter than for almost any other infraction. This has led to growing calls by sports fans, sportscasters and reform advocates to change the NFL’s arcane policy.
Weed is now legal for recreational uses in two states, Washington and Colorado, and the first retails pot shops opened in the latter New Year’s Day. Medical marijuana is allowed in those states and 19 others.
But cannabis remains illegal under federal law, even where it’s sanctioned by state law. In August, however, the Justice Department announced it would allow legal marijuana to continue in the states that adopted it, as long as they enforce certain priorities, such as keeping gangs and cartels out of the pot trade.
“We’re seeing this shift that even the federal government is now recognizing,” Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said last year. “So why does the NFL feel it has to be in the business of policing marijuana beyond the legal penalties already in place? These are $150 fines in many states but by missing a multiple number of games, these players are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s threatening their livelihood.”
Professional football, probably to its managers’ chagrin, has become a focus of the political combat over legalization.
At the season opener in Denver, where the Broncos played the Baltimore Ravens, Tvert’s group bought a $5,000 billboard, visible from Mile High Stadium, that highlighted how much safer weed is than alcohol.
And now the two teams headed to the Super Bowl, the Seattle Sea Hawks and the Broncos, both hail from states that have legalized cannabis. Whatever fans call it – the Weed Bowl, the Salad Bowl, the Bong Bowl – it’s clear the NFL is deep in the middle of marijuana, whether it wants to be there or not.