Is Medical Marijuana Right for the NFL?

By Trevor Tompkins '14

Pete Carroll (center), coach of the Seattle Seahawks and seen here talking to a player,  supports the exploration of marijuana use in the NFL.  (Photo: Bernie Zimmerman)

Pete Carroll (center), coach of the Seattle Seahawks and seen here talking to a player, supports the exploration of marijuana use in the NFL. (Photo: Bernie Zimmerman)

In recent years, more and more evidence has come to light that demonstrates the viability of marijuana as a highly effective pain reliever. Twenty states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and many patients use the drug to relieve chronic pain. However, the National Football League (NFL) lists marijuana as one of its banned substances.

In a study of retired NFL players by the Washington Post, approximately 10% reported experiencing chronic pain, and 91% of them attributed it to football. In a sport that undoubtedly creates an abundance of pain for its players, pressures are rising for the NFL to consider legalizing the use of medical marijuana.

The two teams that played in this year’s Super Bowl are both from states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use. Even though both teams reside in pro-marijuana states, both teams have lost important players this year to suspensions involving use of the drug, like Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner. Due to these occurrences, questions have been raised about the potential benefits of the NFL allowing their players to use medical marijuana for pain relief.

Playing in the NFL is one of the most painful jobs in sports, and players find themselves dealing with numerous injuries throughout the course of the season. To deal with this pain, NFL players are prescribed various legal painkillers, but the overuse or misuse of these drugs can often do more harm than good.

Former offensive lineman Kyle Turley, who played for the Saints, Rams, and Chiefs in his NFL career, told ESPN that the Saints’ medical staff would routinely hand out painkillers like Vicodin on the flights home from games. “The trainers and the doctors used to go down the aisle and say, ‘Who needs what?’” Turley said. “If you had something hurting and needed a painkiller to take the edge off so you could sleep that night, they made sure you had it.”

Another popular pain-relieving substance that NFL players often abuse is alcohol. The NFL averages about 13-14 DUIs per year with 177 DUIs since the year 2000, according to USA Today. Critics have suggested that the NFL has a serious drinking problem that needs to be addressed.

Former Seattle Seahawk John Moffitt told MyNorthwest.com, a local news site, that, “If you’re an athlete and you’re drinking [alcohol], you’re deteriorating your body far more than if you’re an athlete and you’re using marijuana.”

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll thinks the NFL should explore the use of marijuana as long as it benefits the game and the players. In an interview with the Denver Post, Carroll said, “I would say that we have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible. Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this because the world of medicine is doing this.”

The advantages of the NFL legalizing marijuana for players seem evident, but the NFL’s public perception could take a hit if the league develops too much of a stoner image. If the players were to decide to abuse their marijuana privileges then the entire league could suffer profound criticism from anti-drug organizations. On the other hand, if players show responsibility, marijuana might help the NFL.