NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been the subject of a Twitter backlash after speaking out against the use of recreational cannabis among NFL players this past Friday. The Commissioner told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike show that he was concerned about allowing players to use marijuana due to its addictive nature.
“It’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game,” Goodell told Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, the show’s hosts. “We really want to help our players in that circumstance but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that is something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”
Yes, these comments are coming from a man who in 2015 leveraged a deal with Anheuser-Busch for a $1.4 billion sponsorship from Bud Light over a six-year period. The NFL is a league where players beat each other up for a living and often suffer concussions and brain injuries with substantial long-term effects. Apparently, the Commissioner is not entirely worried about negative consequences down the road as a result of either of these issues.
The league also appears to be okay with prescription painkillers. According to a recent Washington Post article by Rick Maese, the New York Jets alone doled out 1,564 doses of the opiate Vicodin in 2010. Linda Cottler, a former adviser to the NFL on prescription drugs, surveyed 644 retired NFL players in 2011 and found that more than half medicated with opioids during their career, and 70% of that group reported abuse of these drugs.
Still, Mr. Goodell appears reluctant to change his stance on marijuana in the NFL, a point of view that was the subject of ridicule and mockery from Twitter users:
“I’ve said it before and will say it again: Alcohol abuse is a bigger issue in the NFL than weed. But keep those sponsorship dollars coming,” commented ESPN NFL analyst Jim Cotter. “Each time I think @nflcommish will get through a big-event interview w/o saying something that shows he’s out of touch, he proves me wrong,” he continued in a follow-up tweet.
Ben Maller, host of The Ben Maller Show on FOX Sports, echoed Trotter’s sentiments. “Roger Goodell thinks Marijuana is “addictive” and bad for NFL Players, has no problem with feeding them a buffet of prescription opiates,” he tweeted Friday afternoon.
Comedian Jenny Johnson chimed in with a tweet that said, “NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says smoking marijuana leads to long-term health problems while CTE [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy] only leads to extra FUN!!!”
Cannabis-related suspensions are a regular occurrence in the NFL. In 2015, running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarette Blount (pronounced “blunt,” ironically) each received suspensions after being busted for possession, and New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was handed a whopping four-game boot after testing positive for marijuana. Perhaps the worst case of cannabis-related disciplinary action came in November 2016, when Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson was handed a 10-game suspension as a result of using prescribed medical marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease.
“Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say,” Goodell told Mike & Mike. “It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long term.”
ESPN reporter John Darlington scoffed at Goodell’s statement. “This comment from Roger Goodell on marijuana sounds like something you’d hear in a low-budget video in 8th-grade health class . . . in 1985,” he tweeted on Friday.
Despite Goodell’s draconian and borderline laughable stance on cannabis in the NFL, there are some positive signs that perhaps the tide will soon turn in favor of ending the ban. For instance, Goodell told Mike & Mike that he hasn’t ruled out loosening the rules on medical marijuana, pending a recommendation from NFL advisers:
“We look at it from a medical standpoint. So if people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisers have to tell you that. We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that,” Goodell said. “To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. . . Medical marijuana is something that is evolving and that is something that at some point the medical advisers may come to us and say, ‘This is something you should consider.'”
NFL players themselves are also beginning to speak out on the issue. In November 2016, Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan and a group of former players co-signed a letter with Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, urging for the NFL to reconsider its stance on cannabis. The letter stressed the potential for cannabis to be a “viable pain management alternative” and pleaded for the league’s medical staff to look more deeply into the matter.
Retired Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe addressed marijuana use in the NFL, stating that “It’s the responsibility of the medical professionals of the NFL to take this issue on and do something to potentially help players’ safety and help with their long-term safety.”
The NFL Players Association is also reportedly putting together a proposal for the league to amend its drug policies and take a more lenient approach to recreational pot use among players. If the NFLPA’s representatives approve the proposal, it will then be sent to the Commissioner’s office to open up a serious discussion with league officials.
Former running back Ricky Williams, a known pot aficionado, stated that the Players Association may take cannabis off of its banned substance list, which will terminate offseason testing for marijuana. “Finally the union is taking a step forward with it and has the players’ backs, and I think that’s a step in the right direction, to change this antiquated punitive drug program that doesn’t help players, just punishes them,” Williams told an audience at the 2017 CannaMed conference in Pittsburgh.
There are certainly signs of progress, but there may still be a long way to go before cannabis becomes fully allowed by the NFL. Perhaps the league is just waiting around for Mary Jane to become fully socially acceptable in the United States before they make big advertising or sponsorship deals with some of the nation’s top growers. As a multi-billion dollar yearly business, the NFL is known to be concerned about its image and it may not want to push the envelope too much. But as negative social stigmas toward cannabis continue to erode and the marijuana industry starts to look more and more like big business, it’s not inconceivable to think that a few years down the road we could see advertisements for recreational pot during the Super Bowl (the scripts practically write themselves).
For now, we think it would be best for Roger Goodell to head out to one of the many NFL cities where recreational weed is legal and try cannabis for himself. Maybe after a few hits of Beast Mode OG (named after former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch) or the Peyton Manning strain (named after the MVP quarterback), Mr. Goodell will understand why NFL players are turning to marijuana to chill out and relieve their pain after a brutal Sunday afternoon on the gridiron.