NFL Players and the battle for marijuana use.

Marijuana advocates have long challenged sports authorities to explain why they are perfectly happy to accept sponsorship from drinks companies while banning players from using cannabis.  In fairness to the sports authorities, up until relatively recently the former was completely legal while the latter was completely illegal and being seen to endorse it could have created all kinds of challenges for them.  Now, however, the fact that marijuana is moving towards legalization and mainstream acceptance while legal painkillers are coming under increased scrutiny for their addictiveness, means that there is increasing pressure on sports authorities to accept the fact that medical marijuana is an effective and safe way to deal with sport injuries.

What athletes are using marijuana and why?

While Michael Phelps may be the most internationally-recognized, professional U.S. athlete to advocate the use of medical marijuana, the vast majority of professional athletes who are pushing for the acceptance of at least medical marijuana come from the world of football.  NFL luminaries such as Eugene Monroe, DeAndre Levy, Derrick Morgan, Jake Plummer, Kyle Turley, Nate Jackson and Jim McMahon have all been outspoken in their support for medical marijuana.  This is hardly a coincidence.

deandre-levy-marijuana“I think it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Levy said. “I know players, former, current and it was a time where it was very, very easy to get as many painkillers as you needed, as many sleeping pills as you needed. And if we’re talking about the health of our players, past their playing career, I think it’s definitely something that needs to at least be acknowledged and something looked into as there’s a lot of viable and growing body of research supporting it.” -DeAndre Levy about Marijuana.

Football is practically synonymous with sports injuries and over time those sports injuries can extract a heavy toll on a person’s body, particularly as they age.  In many cases, the reality of the situation is that instead of repairing the injury completely, athletes have to learn to manage the pain, hence the fact that so many footballers have learned to appreciate cannabis.

Are athletes allowed to use the marijuana as a performance enhancer?

Back in 1998 Ross Rebagliati neatly shimmied around the loss of the snowboarding gold he won at the 1998 Winter Olympics on the grounds that at that time it had yet to be included in the official list of banned substances.  These days, however, marijuana, even medical marijuana, is banned by pretty much every major sports authority in the U.S. and indeed internationally.  Superficially, this makes sense as long as marijuana continues to be classed as an illegal drug by the U.S. federal government and national governments across the world. In reality, there is a distinct possibility that the sports authorities are basing their position less on the advice of their lawyers and more on the advice of their accountants.

marijuana-nflThe fact of the matter is that if sports authorities wished, they could simply stop testing players for marijuana and decline to take action against any player who admits to using it, after all, in states where using marijuana is a criminal offence, enforcement of the law is a matter for the police rather than the sports authorities.  The problem sport authorities have is that in the U.S. mainstream, sports are big business. The reason why major sports teams can be valued at billions of dollars is because they can negotiate huge sponsorship deals with all kinds of companies across all industries. Some of which are likely to be uncomfortable about being associated with marijuana, even medical marijuana and some of which may see cannabis as a direct competitor for the dollars they need to collect to finance the sponsorship deals.

These companies are the reason why top athletes in popular sports can earn the sort of money most of us can only dream about.  Athletes are more than just sports people, they are brand ambassadors for their sponsors, because they are the people who tend to have the strongest connection with the fans.  If athletes are unhappy then fans can become unhappy and if fans desert a team or a sport then that sport is in big trouble, as are the sponsors who’ve committed money to it on long-term deals.  The athletes however, can feasibly go on to become celebrities.  At this point in time, it looks like the sports authorities are still very much on the fence about accepting marijuana in any way, even medical marijuana for sports injuries, but the reality is that public pressure on them is mounting.  After former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz was slapped with a five-year ban for marijuana use, there was a public outcry and it seems quite a coincidence that the Nevada Athletics Commission promptly reviewed this down to 18 months.

What changes in legislation are needed?nfl-marijuana

The legalization of marijuana certainly puts more pressure on sports authorities to accept medical marijuana at the very least, but in reality the nature of mainstream sports is that the real driving force behind change is commercial reality.  The more fans are prepared to support athletes who speak out for cannabis, the more pressure sports authorities and sponsors will face to accept it (or at least stop testing for it) regardless of where governments stand on the matter.

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