It can be said that the NBA is a “stoner league.” Some say, around 80% of players use medical marijuana or smoke pot recreationally. This trend, however, can be seen across all four major American sports leagues.
Athletic Pains Eased By Marijuana Use
Let’s face it: sports are brutal. Injuries are an inherent reality of playing sports professionally. As was the case with the average American, in the past pain symptoms would be resolved the status quo’s way: with prescription painkillers.
Sadly, the reality of doctors pushing opioid painkillers has contributed to the opioid crisis as prices surged and medical restrictions tightened. Consequently, average people started to search for a similar high, which led to street heroin becoming the main counter option. Leafbuyer obviously prefers alternative pain remedies that don’t worsen addiction.
Still, with attitudes changing toward marijuana across the nation, it can be safely presumed that these beliefs will infiltrate the four major sports.
How NBA Players, Other Sports Leagues View Marijuana Use
For years, NBA basketball has been synonymous with hip hop, riches, and the pleasures of smoking pot. The assumption that players abuse marijuana rather than use it for pressing medical conditions and injuries is, in my opinion, a racially-charged argument. It revolves around African-American players being “thug-like.”
There are also stark divides between the NBA and other major sports leagues, like the NFL. For example, the National Football League suspends a player for four games on the 4th drug infraction, while the NBA suspends a player five games for a 3rd drug infraction. There is, however, a crucial tidbit that creates the distinction between the two: the NBA season is 82 games long, while the NFL season is 16. So, a player getting suspended in the NFL is missing a much larger proportion of the season when compared to the NBA.
I mean, let’s be real:
The NFL is a far more conservative league as owners tend to favor conservative political candidates; therefore, the league’s stance isn’t that shocking. Incidentally, the frequency of testing and positive results is a lot higher in the NFL. Of course, the perception by some is that white owners want to control their players akin to “sports slaves,” which is a bit extreme but, in a sense, has a basis in reality. The fact that owners in both leagues are adamantly against relatively fair collective bargaining rights is a way in which to restrict the individuality and freedom of players.
Players, Coaches Acknowledge the Reward and Risk
As of now, current NBA medical marijuana restrictions are not as liberal as some of the recreational states that players reside in. Not too long ago, NBA players like Karl Malone contained a pretty backward stance on marijuana:
“…Playing in this league carries with it a responsibility.worry about the image of this league all the time. I want to leave this league in as good or better shape than when I came. If every other guy took that approach, it would be better than picking up a paycheck and saying, ‘I’m going to do what I want to because of who I am.'”
In a way, Malone has a potentially strong point, i.e., smoking marijuana could impact performance if a player smokes before games. However, the flaw in his somewhat jaded argument is that players tend to smoke after games end or during breaks from the league.
While there are a couple of exceptions in regards to medical marijuana, it can improve oxygenation, help heal muscle tissue at a faster rate, and change the mind in becoming more impulsive. This may be beneficial in sports as response times are key. Again, Karl Malone is clinging to a largely unproven argument that derives from mainly white perspectives on how African-American players behave during their free time.
Another thing to note is that Karl’s belief that college players will emulate the behavior of the professional ballers has credence, but again, he hasn’t proven that marijuana actually impacts performance. Has he ever heard of the Oregon Ducks? (Oregon is one of the nation’s premier sports schools.)
Not too long ago, it was clear that coaches were more than aware of the marijuana culture in Oregon. The current commissioner, Adam Silver, has a bit of a different take on marijuana:
“We’re much more concerned about HGH testing and designer performance-enhancing drugs. This is a policy matter, and it’s our strong preference that our players do not consume marijuana. We believe it will affect their performance on the court. That said, marijuana testing is something that’s collectively bargained with the players’ association, and we adjust to the times.”
It’s clear that Adam Silver has created a pretty contrasting distinction: marijuana shouldn’t be perceived as a performance enhancing drug.
Are Changes Coming To NBA Cannabis Rules?
With collective bargaining agreements being completed every few years, I foresee a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of sorts developing in the NBA. If marijuana isn’t as explicit, then it will protect sports brands and ensure that the NBA isn’t portraying marijuana as a normality toward younger fans. I mean, in the 90s, this policy was certainly the case because testing was not very common and players, like Allen Iverson, were publicly discussing the use of cannabis.
During the NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors, ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst claimed to have smelled marijuana in the Cavaliers locker room. Of course, Mr. Windhorst admitted that it could have been an employee that was smoking in the locker room, but stories similar to this may have profound implications on the NBA.
For one, a blasé attitude toward marijuana or marijuana products (such as tincture or edibles) can ruin it for everyone. If stories like this continue to leak or are discovered, owners will probably move toward a stronger regulation of the substance. That’s what I fear, and of course, if these policies are put in place, they will largely target African-American, even though Caucasian Americans use marijuana at the same frequency.
Overall, I don’t enjoy the parallels between marijuana consumption in the NBA and the War on Drugs. In order for the NBA to be more open about marijuana, owners need to see the benefits of medical marijuana for players. Without this approach, star players will likely be suspended from time-to-time, and considering the fact that the NBA is a profit-driven league, suspensions could hurt TV ratings. Ultimately, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will tilt the balance of power back toward the players.
Article By: Jason Newell