From the chirp of a referee’s whistle to the blind rage you feel for someone wearing the jersey of a competing team, it’s September and that means one thing: it’s football season. Purchase that extra cable package – it’s the most wonderful time of the year! But, unfortunately for NFL players, it’s also one of the driest. At least in terms of marijuana. Pot and the pigskin are a no go.

The NFL has always maintained an anti-cannabis stance. As of now, per the Washington Post, any player who tests positive for weed must enter a substance abuse program. If they test positive again, the repercussions are harsher – fines, game suspensions, and even expulsion from the league.

Ricky Williams Ricky Williams, football and cannabis (the former player turned super awesome marijuana advocate) is one of the most famous cases demonstrating how serious the NFL takes cannabis.  He used it as means to deal with his social anxiety, but the reason was irrelevant to the league. After his fourth violation, he was suspended for the entire 2006 season.

Of course, this stance on marijuana is confusing to most, especially considering how the likes of Vicodin and Percocet are handed out inside NFL facilities as if they’re pieces of gum. When people (ahem, Jeff Sessions) speak of “drug epidemics,” they fail to mention that the epidemic is opioid-based in nature. Quit pointing fingers at Mary Jane – she has nothing to do with this.

In fact, the opioid abuse in the NFL is so extreme that over 1,800 former players sued the league in 2015 because of it. The lawsuit described a culture where player safety is disregarded and owners and staff are blasé about narcotics.  Per CNN, the “complaint alleges doctors and trainers negligently supplied narcotics and anti-inflammatory painkillers to keep players on the field. It contends that teams ‘maintain the return to play practice or policy by ensuring that players are not told of the health risks associated with taking medications.’

Players are not informed of the long-term health effects of taking controlled substances and prescription medications in the amounts given to them

The use is so rampant that documents obtained by the Washington Post found that the average player takes six to seven pain pills or injections per week during the season. Depending on dosage and individual body chemistry, this can be enough to get people addicted.

And yet the league bans marijuana. That makes perfect sense……said no one.

The Changing Times of Football

Players in the NFL are presently banned from using marijuana no matter what – even if they use it for medicinal purposes, even if they live in a recreational legal state, even if they use it as an alternative to narcotics. But this mandate is part of the collective bargaining agreement, something set to expire in 2020.

This expiration coupled with the rampant opioid use, the increasing criticism from former players, the changing views of medical marijuana (and marijuana in general), and Jerry Jones (yes, Jerry Jones), point to one conclusion: the NFL must change its tune on THC.

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys since 1989 and a bigwig in the industry (his net worth is believed to be over 5 billion), went on record voicing his concern for the “no cannabis” policy. According to CBS Sports, Jones met with the other owners of each NFL team in spring of this year as part of the Annual League Meeting.

During the course of their discussion, Jones stated that he wants the league to “drop its prohibition on marijuana use”

It’s something that must be collectively bargained, so change – if it does come – will take time.

Even so, having one of the most powerful NFL owners in its corner bodes well for cannabis. So does the fact that marijuana could actually help those who play professional football. Their bodies are beat up week after week – forcing them to choose narcotics or pain seems inherently unfair and inhumane. And, naturally, just plain stubborn.

The Devil’s Leaf Turned Angel’s

In many ways, the NFL has bought into the propaganda surrounding pot; they’ve painted it as unhealthy and addictive and a gateway drug. They’ve also used the crutch that it was illegal, but their ability to use that is quickly dissSeahawks stadium, NFL and cannabis, football and cannabisolving – medical marijuana, the type of cannabis that could truly benefit NFL players, is already legal in the majority of the US. Twenty-nine states have it in some form.

Whether it is this propaganda, bullheadedness, or fear that has limited the NFL’s openness to marijuana doesn’t really matter – what matters is they are broadening their horizons.

Sure, they’re not busting out the bongs at halftime, doing hash on the field’s hashmarks, or changing Cleveland’s name to the Cleveland Pot Brownies, but they are collaborating with science. Per NBC Sports,

The NFL has offered to work with the NFL Players Association as the latter studies whether or not marijuana can effectively manage pain. Spoiler alert: it can.

This might not be a big deal to some, but for a league that pretty much said – “We’re banning the bud and we’re banning it forever” – their concessions that cannabis might not be all that bad is huge. It’ll take effort, like anything else, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And it’s not even the recreational side of it either; it’s not about, in keeping with NFL terms, “getting blitzed.” You can argue that – sure. You can argue that grown men who live in legal states should be allowed to imbibe if they want, but the NFL, as a business, has a right to say no. They’re certainly not the only ones who do, either – in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and all the other legal states, there are numerous businesses with policies mandating that employees must pass drug tests in order to secure or maintain employment.

But the medicinal side is where the change is so badly needed. Give players the option to put down the Demerol and pick up the dope.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.