NFL Should Permit Players to Use Medical Marijuana, Ex-Players Say

Pro football lives on massive consumption of painkillers, but still bans therapeutic use of pot.


The relentless violence of pro football,

Any Given Funday.
Toke of the Town

combined with the fact that the vast majority of National Football League (NFL) players work under contracts that can allow them to be summarily cut even if they are unable to play due to injury, means the league is awash with the use of prescription painkillers. And yet, despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in 20 states where the NFL has franchises, the league continues to keep the drug on its banned substance list. 

A group of former NFL players, including tight end Nate Jackson and offensive tackle Kyle Turley, are lobbying to change this. A recent article by Scott Keyes in The Guardian focuses on their efforts to expose the league's complicity with team doctors and coaches to rush players back onto the field by loading them up with painkillers, which beyond being addictive, can cause players to overexert themselves and make their injuries far worse. 

Keyes writes:

To hurry players back from injury, a cocktail of pain pills and anti-inflammatory injections are typically dispensed. Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Toradol, Celebrex, Vioxx (before it was recalled for increasing the long-term risk of heart attacks and strokes) and so on. The widespread use of highly potent prescription pain drugs, some argue, has allowed the NFL to become the multibillion-dollar industry that it is today, but at a price.

A 2011 study by researchers at Washington University in St Louis found that former NFL players were four times more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than the general population. And more than seven in 10 players who used pain medications during their playing days went on to abuse them, though former offensive tackle Kyle Turley said he thinks that number is actually closer to 90%.

Turley and Jackson are among a group of former players trying to fight this epidemic of prescription drug abuse by lobbying the NFL to change its policy and allow players access to an alternative: medical marijuana.

Turley has been outspoken about the harrowing side effects he attributes to his use of prescription painkillers. In a recent ESPN interview, Turley said:

I wanted to jump out of a third story window of my house and my wife had to stop me one night. So I stopped taking that. Then went to depakote, found great relief in depakote, but the longterm use of that surfaced all these other problems. And depression, anxiety, light sensitivity got worse, and suicidal and homicidal tendencies became a part of my daily living, in that I couldn't be around a knife in my kitchen without having an urge to stab someone, including my wife and kids. That was highly disturbing to me.

But, Turley told The Guardian, once he got a medical marijuana prescription in California, he successfully transitioned off off all painkillers, even over-the-counter ones like aspirin. He has since founded the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, made up of ex-NFLers who say their former league is "plagued with multiple ailments and diseases currently void of non-addictive treatments or cures." The Coalition advocates "to resolve this impasse to allow players and the public the option of an organic treatment for injury and illness through Cannabis," as well as league-funded research on medical marijuana. 

The league's policing of cannabis is half-hearted, to be sure. Players are only tested once during pre-season, and such lax enforcement leads Jackson to suggest that more than half of active players are probably self-medicating with marijuana. Keyes notes that the "the league only began testing players for marijuana in the 1980s, a direct result of the emerging national 'war on drugs.'"

It's not just marijuana. In professional sports, painkillers are inexplicably legitimized over less-toxic drugs used for therapeutic purposes. Last week, I wrote about the ongoing controversy surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who allegedly received shipments of human growth hormone (HGH) while recovering from a broken neck, according to an Al Jazeera report. In the piece, I questioned the wisdom of banning a non-opiod substance that helps players heal from potentially devastating injuries, but allowing (and even encouraging) injured players to be doped out of their minds on painkillers.

After former Reasoner Radley Balko tweeted the story to his followers, it led to a very interesting exchange between Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (who is currently financing research on the use of HGH to heal ACL injuries) and former NFL Pro Bowler Seth Joyner.

Joyner insisted that Manning deserved to be vilified if he used the banned "performance-enhancing drug" and groused about "How diff may my career been if I coulda used HGH to heal." Cuban replied by asking, "how many guys did u play with that hurt when they move or have liver problems because of drugs they had to take?" and added, "I'm trying to change the cycle from reactive to proactive in the NBA. The NFL is their own worst enemy." This seemed to at least partially impress Joyner, who replied, "They're dinosaurs and very leery about anything new or out of the box thinking wise given all the concussion heat!"

The NFL generates more than $7 billion annually, but its drug and health issues are not going away. After seeing the new film Concussion, which dramatizes the true story of the effort to prove the link between traumatic brain injury and the NFL, Pro Bowl offensive lineman D'Brickashaw Ferguson penned an op-ed for Sports Illustrated in which he says the movie made him feel "betrayed" by the league.

When prominent active players are willing to go on record, calling out the league regarding its treatment of injured players, it should serve as a warning to the "dinosaurs" that it's time to evolve. 

NEXT: A Former Teachers Union Member Explains Why He's Suing to Abolish Mandatory Dues

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  1. Even if the NFL changed its policy, by law, only a handful of teams in marijuana-legal cities/states would be able to partake.

    1. There is CBD. A study of the effect of CBD on CTE would be fascinating.

    2. Or they could travel to the nearest legal state. Athletes travel for all manner of treatments.

  2. They're asking the league to go up against an even bigger money making machine? Nothing can stand against The War.

    1. Hey the NFL owns a day of the week in this country, they could probably land a couple of good punches before they were ko'd.

  3. Sure, Ex-players say.

    Get some current players to say that. You won't. The totalitarian regime known as the NFL will come down on them with fines and suspensions, until they fall back in line with the official narrative. Drugs are bad, Mmkay?

    1. Unless they get you out on the field.

  4. OT:

    Expect to see a lot more of this:

    Donald Trump's new TV ad: Make America great by keeping the darkies out

    Now compare that to one of the ads Wilson ran as part of his 1994 gubernatorial campaign, which served up similarly grainy footage of similar dark hordes invading the country. As Brian Beutler noted, this depiction of "illegal immigrants as invaders" offers a striking parallel to today's Trumpian rhetoric. That parallel should make it hard to avoid reckoning with the possibility that Trump's appeal to GOP voters just might be partly rooted in the raw appeal of his xenophobia and demagoguery about immigrants, and not just in anxieties that are legitimately traceable to the impact of immigration policy on GOP voters' economic prospects, as some right-leaning commentators have suggested. Now Trump's ad has helpfully brought this comparison to full circle.

    1. How are Muslims darkies? I thought they came in assorted colors. Maybe that's just my imagination.

      1. *rising intonation* they just are!

        1. It's funny when the left get so hysterical that they forget their own talking points. It's 'people of color', lefties, did you miss the memo? The Donald said we have to ban 'people of color'! Got to hand it to Trump, he's so effectively trolling them that they've been knocked completely out of their game.

          1. Bullies are rarely confronted and don't really know how to respond.

            Trump is not allowing the left to bully him (odious as his blather is). He ignores them, then trolls them.

      2. Well, the specific Muslims in question here are generally of darker complexion than your average European.

          1. You. You have blue eyes.

            I say you have blue eyes.

            - Yes, effendi.

            Are you Circassian?

            - Yes, effendi.

            How old are you?

            - Twenty-seven, effendi. I think.

            You look older. You have had a lot of experience.

            It's an interesting face.

            I am surrounded by cattle. He wouldn't know an interesting face from a sow's belly.

            I have been is Deraa now for three and a half years. If they posted me to the dark side of the moon, I could not be more......isolated.

            You haven't the least idea what I'm talking about.

            - No, effendi.

            Have you?


            That would be too......lucky.

            Where did you get that?

            - It's old, effendi.

            No, this is recent.

            You are a deserter.

            - No, effendi.

            Yes, you are a deserter.

            But from which army?

            Not that it matters at all. A man cannot be always in uniform.

            Your skin is very fair?.

  5. NFL is still considered a private organization, right ? Their rules are their own to make even if you do not approve.

    1. And if somebody advocates that they be forced to change their rules by the government, then you can pull that out of your pocket and it will actually be applicable.

    2. Don't have a source for the moment, but it's my understanding that the feds basically forced the sports leagues to start drug testing in the 1980's as part of the War on Drugs. They basically extorted them into it, but its not extortion because government did it.

      The rules are their own, but the history is more complicated than that. I mean, they had Congressional hearings over steroids in baseball.

    3. I wonder how the NFL gets around OSHA? Their injury tally board is in minutes instead of days. Lol.

  6. Won't happen. The NFL will not doublecross its favorite sugar daddy, the government

    1. I for one really despise the NFL trying to make athletes be role models for children. They're not fucking role models for your children, people, they're professional entertainers. Anyone who thinks NFL players are role models for children has rocks for brains. Well, that would cover most Americans.

      1. They're caught in the chicken-and-egg dilemma.

        If they come right out and say "why would you expect our players to be role models?", they'll get hounded by the press and probably be subject to Congressional investigation (and worse).

        Not to mention that a lot of people realize that NFL players tend to get lighter treatment from the law. Who wants to be the cop who ended the home team's winning season?

        It's a dance, and you only lose if you're the first one to stop dancing.

      2. C'mon man, it's SPORTS. SPORTS entail all that is holy and good and excellent. For within SPORTS, we can find a parable, an analogy, an anecdote for every situation, no matter how strained or ridiculous it may seem.

        1. Well, pretending that most NFL players are saints ( no pun intended), is over the top ridiculous. And the mediots carry on as if they don't get the irony of it all.

          1. Why do you hate the United Way?

            1. I knew you were going to say that.

      3. It is just marketing. Don't blame the NFL. They are just reacting to what they percieve are the demands of their fans. Blame the media and the various legions of the professional butt hurt who have forced the NFL to act that way. If it were up to the NFL, they would not. If Hannibal Lector were a once in a generation quarterback prospect, the NFL will say he just had some mild eating disorders.

        NFL locker rooms are one of the few real islands of meritocracy left in this country. No one in them cares who you are as long as you can play.

        1. Dude, most football fans that I know just want someone to break the legs of the opposing QB, they don't give a fuck what the players do off the field.

          I mean, honestly, what is wrong with people. I remember a while back reading some fluff bullshit about how the NFL can attract more female fans. I mean, this is retarded, I know a lot of female NFL fans. A lot of them just started watching because their boyfriends/husbands were watching. But the NFL has to make it some kind of issue. I mean, what do they want, for feminists and SJWs to become NFL fans? It's a FUCKING VIOLENT sport, you idiots! And most people would stop watching if it was much less violent. That's a big part of the attraction.

          1. Most don't care. But a very loud minority, and a majority of the media, do care. Blame those people for forcing the NFL.

            1. Well, as with everything else, it's typically the screeching minority who fuck things up.

            2. Why is this the one issue that Roger Goodell decides he has trouble telling the media to fuck off on? And by Goodel, I really mean the NFL owners, because HOLY CRAP HAS THAT BEEN THE MOST BRILLIANT PR MOVE EVER.

              And, yes, that deserved its all caps.

              Like, seriously, the way the NFL owners somehow escape the blame by just doing a,"Man, this Goodell guy, what a prick, am I right? Who put him in charge?" routine is just... just mesmerizing.

              John, you of all people can appreciate this: Imagine if for 1 week, sports journalists ACTUALLY were tough on sports leagues and owners. If they were as harsh on them as they are on other corporations. They didn't just shift the blame, but openly called out owners on everything ranging from letting teams tank to the bullshit around steroid testing.

              Hey, I enjoy sports as much as anyone, but if those people ever got exposed to even a HINT of scrutiny, they would be howling in a second.

              1. The major sports league owners are some of the worst people going. The leagues have virtually no standards for who can own a team other than they have the cash and be a crony with an existing owner.

                NFL, MLB and the NBA (and probably the NHL though I don't follow the sport closely enough to give an example) have allowed horrific owners to squat and do untold damage to some of their most valuable franchises. The NBA allowed Donald Sterling to make no effort to win and destroy what should have been a marquee franchise in the Clippers for over 30 years. They continue to allow the Dolans to destroy the Knicks and basketball in New York, the country's largest market, with it. The NFL allowed Art Modell to run the Browns into bankruptcy and the Irsays to do the same with the Colts, destroying decades of tradition and fan loyalty in two of the most dedicated football cities in America. Baseball let CBS destroy the Yankees and later Bud Seilig crony Jeffrey Laurie create more bad will in Miami than perhaps ever has been created against a single franchise.

          2. Most NFL fans don't care when it is their team, but do care when they can use it to cast stones at a rival. People are that petty.

            The NFL brought this all on themselves when Goodell started acting like he was the new sheriff in town bringing law and order to the league in 2006-7. It became ridiculously easy to point out their own hypocrisy in the aftermath of that. Cheap, easy stories where you can easily drum up faux moral outrage. The shrieking then becomes almost competitive as talking heads and media outlets compete to see who can be most outraged and horrified at the NFL. The concussion nonsense made it even juicier. It was in fashion to go after the NFL.

            Ultimately, though, Goodell's stupidity brought this on. He involved himself in this stuff. People try and blame the internet, the 24 hour news cycle, Twitter and so on. All those things existed (outside Twitter) before Goodell, but only in the last few years have we seen the real media scrutiny. It was too easy to point out the absurdity of suspending a player 4 games for weed, but two games for knocking out his wife.

            NFL should have just stayed out of it like they had under the much less visible and wilier Tagliabue era.

            1. I've sort of moved past blaming Goodell at this point, because by now the owners have basically condoned and endorsed all his bullshit. I think they like it because it keeps the heat off of them. Example: Jerry Jones and Greg Hardy. Yeah, he got a bit of shit for that, but everyone danced around it and didn't basically say, "Jerry is a piece of shit who care more about winning than morality but plays up morality when it is convenient because of regional, historical, and national pressures. But make not mistake: Jerry Jones doesn't give a shit if his players- and he sees them as players, not regular employees- beat the shit out of their significant others. Now, maybe that isn't his business, that's the law. That's fine. But, just know, Jerry's priority is whether he can suit up on Sunday. And by continuing to give him money, that's also basically the priority of the fans, whether they like it or not."

              But no one in sports has those balls.

              It's weird. I like the game of sports, and like the strategic "which players should go to which teams" aspect, but I find the business side disgusting to the point it almost turns me against the whole thing.

      4. +1 Charles Barkley Nike ad

  7. OT: Cell phones cause brain cancer? How, do you know anyone who actually talks on a cell phone any more?


    1. Now, tell me they cause thumb or forefinger cancer, or penis or uteris cancer because we carry them in our pockets, then we can debate.

      1. That isn't scary enough. Needz moar scary.

    2. That was a fad back about a decade ago. I guess they're bringing it out again. If it were true, about 99% of the women I know would be dead from brain cancer.

      1. Correlation always equals causation. Next up they will explain how tonic water destroys your liver.

    3. What's ABA's stance on it? That way I know where regulation is headed.

      1. We'll all be required to get a CT scan of our heads, twice a year, and pay the tab in full. Anyone who fails to do so loses their passport, voting rights, 2nd amendment rights, and right to go to the bathroom without a chaperone.


        1. For our own good!

  8. Our attitude towards drugs is almost as insane as our attitudes about sex these days. On the one hand, we have the DEA going after any doctor who hands out too many opiate based pain pills and we have the various drug warriors claiming pain pill abuse is the worst thing ever that is going to kill all of our children. Then on the other hand we have places like the NFL and the VA claiming that their players and patients are better off taking those very same pain pills or in the case of the VA powerful and generally horrible psychiatric drugs rather than smoking the evil weed.

    1. Part of the problem is that if you try to focus on non-recreational uses, you'll get hounded because "everyone knows" that you're really just shilling for recreational use. And Reason can hardly refute that implication, because the difference between recreational and non-recreational use has no legally meaningful significance to a libertarian. Not to mention your own "pot, ass sex, and Mexicans" characterization (which may need some revision lately, how do we work Trump and Muslims in there?) of the magazine.

      But the recreational use "problem" is hardly unique to marijuana. How many people actually use narcotics for a brief period of time directly connected to a specific source of pain? Narcotic addiction is rampant and nobody seems to be denying that. There are a nontrivial number of people who are "recreational users" of narcotics. Is there some magical quality to prescription slips that makes that okay?

      Ultimately the only consistent prohibitionist position is to prohibit it all. But that's never going to happen, so the rhetoric sounds principled but only gets applied selectively.

    2. There is most definitely a recent round of pants shitting about the 'opiate menace'. How many people subscribed opiates actually become addicted? I have yet to see any stats on this, only claims about what a great menace it is.

      I mean, seriously. Opiates make a lot of people sick. Even the ones who would really take to it to the point of addiction, they probably only have short term prescriptions for it and are unlikely to sell everything they own to seek out street opiates.

      As with most hysteria like this, I don't buy into it at all. Call me extremely skeptical at the least.

      1. My favorite is the panic over kids' taking their parents pain pills and becoming addicted and killing themselves. Unless the parents are addicts or dying of cancer, how does anyone have enough pain pills in their home for the kid to get addicted? Who has that many pills? I am lucky to get a single prescription after a root canal.

        1. As I was saying, taking all of these most unlikely scenarios and turning it into full on hysteria is something that only politicians and media could do. It's just another in a long succession of boogymen to scare the public into compliance.

      2. I am with you! There are unquestionably many folks out there who enjoy taking opiates. Hell, I will be honest, I do! I don't go to the doctor to ask for them unless I am in significant pain, but if I have some left over, 10-15 mg of Vicadin make for a fun saturday night. With no hangover!
        But a lot of people who are "drug seeking" are selling them because of the black market (5$ a pill or so!). Just like every other recreational drug.
        I don't have any stats at the moment. But, yes, there are many people who overdose. Some of them try to commit suicide, some are accidental. Many of those who die were mixing opiates with Xanax or Valium or booze. So what? A large majority of people are not alcoholics even though they can buy as much booze or wine as they could drink. A large majority of people take opiates for short term pain relief, or even on occasion for recreational use. But when they run out, they run out.

        1. http://www.asam.org/docs/defau.....igures.pdf

          Stuff like this is why the average idiot supports the WOD. It is truly painful to read and know that so many people don't think at all about these things. Just a few:
          --1.9 million Americans live with prescription opioid abuse or dependence, while 517,000 Americans live with heroin addiction. Out of 315 million Americans. Of course, abuse is defined down since anytime you take a vicadin that isn't prescribed to you, that is abuse. (So your wife has a script and you hurt your back working in the yard and she gives you 1 since you can't get to the doctor until tomorrow). And there are people who are dependent because maybe they truly have chronic pain! And of course, can't do pot!
          --17000 Americans die annually due to prescription opioid OD. Yet 2 bullets down 8200 Americans die every year due to heroin OD. And heroin is highly illegal. Consider that twice as many people die due to prescription opioid compared to heroin. But how many more people are using vicodin and percocet than using heroin? 10X?
          And the best one:
          --Every day, 2,500 American youth abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. That is almost 1 million a year. FOR THE FIRST TIME! How many times can a kid abuse something for the first time?

  9. Obviously most of us here think people should be free to use whatever drugs they choose. But I am getting a little suspiciouis of all the miracle stories about pot. Pot certainly does seem to help with pain and mood. Hell, maybe it cures cancer. People should be free to try it. Scientists should be free to do medical research with it. But the hyperbole is a bit much.

    The other thing about this article is that I would think that former players "abuse" painkillers at a higher percentage than the general population is because they played THEY PLAYED FOOTBALL for a significant part of their life. They will be in far more pain than the general population. Which means they will reach out to whatever options are there (legal or otherwise) to help fight the pain. I am all for letting people seek the treatment they want. But, of course you are going to be in pain when you are 50 years old. Your knees, elbows, shoulders, ankles, back and head all suffered more blows than anyone can count.

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