Every year during Super Bowl week, a subject that’s in the national conversation has a way of taking over the spotlight. A year ago, it was homosexuality in locker rooms. This year, it’s the matter of legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana.
The jokes began during the championship games, when it became clear that two teams from states that had legalized weed were going to be in the “Bowl Bowl.” But medicinal marijuana quickly became a serious topic of discussion, one that isn’t going to go away with the Marijuana Policy Project erecting five billboards around MetLife Stadium today and presenting a petition urging the league to stop punishing players who test positive for marijuana at the NFL offices in New York.
Four days after the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII, Commissioner Roger Goodell told a “Head Health Challenge” panel that the NFL would consider and research ways to improve players’ health — including the use of medical marijuana.
“I’m not a medical expert,” Goodell said (via USA Today). “We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that.”
At the moment, though, Goodell added that “our medical experts are not saying that.”
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll echoed Goodell’s comments in a news conference Monday.
“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.”
There is a sense that times may be changing. Robert Klemko of MMQB.com conducted an “unscientific survey of 48 current and former players, front office execs, head and assistant coaches, agents, medical professionals and marketing professionals—all of whom either played in the NFL or work closely with NFL players—[that] suggests that more than half of all players smoke marijuana regularly.”
Most respondents agreed that attitudes among the NFL’s youngest players towards marijuana have shifted just in the last five years. “I can’t really speak to why guys smoke, but I’m from Southern California, so it’s all around where we grew up,” says Broncos safety Omar Bolden, 25, of Ontario, Calif. “You walk outside and it smells like weed. I don’t see it as a big deal because that’s how I grew up. I’m a product of my environment.”
The immediate distinction, for now, is between recreational and medicinal use of the drug. Former safety Hamza Abdullah told Klemko that: “There were guys who as soon as they left would say, ‘I’ve got to go smoke this or else I’m gonna go crazy.’ The things you go through in the NFL are not just physical. The mental aspect is number one. A lot of guys are fighting for their job, and every week they can be cut. They take the strain of that, and about 20 to 25 guys on my teams self-medicated with marijuana.”
Ricky Williams, the former NFL running back, preferred it to medication for social anxiety disorder and told USA Today last fall that, for him, it was “like spinach for Popeye.” Abdullah told Klemko that, “If you’re 50 and have some ailments, doctors will give you marijuana. If you’re 26, 27, and play in the NFL, you can’t have marijuana but they’ll give you Vicodin or Percocet.”
States may be legalizing the drug, but it remains a banned substance in the NFL.
“Just like with anything else, if you use too much of it, it can be a problem,”Broncos wide receiver Nathan Palmer told Klemko, “but I don’t really get why marijuana is outlawed. I’ve never seen anybody die from it. But since those are the rules, we have to abide by them.”