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League of Denial

Former NFL greats are speaking out about the need to allow cannabis use for players; will the league listen?

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The NFL has expressed interest in studying the effectiveness of pot as a pain-relieving drug.
  • The NFL has expressed interest in studying the effectiveness of pot as a pain-relieving drug.

As marijuana legalization has continued to spread across the land, a number of institutions have remained steadfast in their resistance to this trend. One of those institutions has been professional sports, where athletes are frequently tested for not just performance-enhancing drugs, but also cannabis and other recreational substances.

The National Football League has had to frequently reiterate its stance on cannabis over the past half-decade — not just because seven of its teams play in states where weed is legal, but due to the fact that former players have spoken out about how cannabis helps relieve the pain resulting from the brutal game. As more and more players — including some current stars — argue in favor of allowing medical cannabis for players, the NFL may finally be listening.

In late July, the NFL sent the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), essentially the players' labor union, a letter stating that despite past messages, the NFL would work with the NFLPA to study the effectiveness of marijuana as a pain-relieving drug. The NFLPA, according to the Washington Post, already has a study underway.

"We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players," Joe Lockhart, the league's executive vice president of communications, told the Post.

This sign of potential movement on a policy change is in response to an increasing number of former players calling for the league to allow cannabis use to relieve pain. Many of these players have said that this action could help curb what they see as a rampant opiate-use problem in the sport. Formerly changing the league's marijuana policy — which now results in suspension if violated — likely wouldn't come until the next collective bargaining agreement in 2020.

Kyle Turley, a former All-Pro offensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints, told Sports Illustrated last year that cannabis helped save his life. Turley developed an opiate addiction during his playing days and had become suicidal in the years after his retirement. He said that cannabis helped keep his pain in check as he got off hard painkillers.

Jake Plummer, a former Idaho prep star who played a decade in the NFL as a quarterback, has also become a vocal proponent of medical cannabis. After retiring in 2007, he has relied on cannabidiol (commonly referred to as CBD) to help relieve the pain from absorbing violent hits as a member of the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos. Plummer, who now lives and coaches in Sandpoint, has teamed with former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe to help move the dial on CBD acceptance in the NFL and other sports. ♦