After a recent procedure to repair his battered left hand, Redskins safety Will Blackmon was given a choice: Percocet or Vicodin. He chose Percocet, because that was the prescription painkiller he used after his ACL surgery. He doesn’t like the way such opioids make him feel, and he’s hoping not to take it, but he figured he should fill the prescription just in case.
Teammate Josh Norman took a prescription painkiller after his own recent hand injury. And “even when we get shot up in a game; what do you think that is?” Norman asked.
Blackmon and Norman, of course, remain brave NFL warriors, nobly fighting through the horrors of pro football with the potential assistance of prescription pain narcotics. Their teammate Trent Williams, who appears to have been self-medicating with marijuana? He’s now a coward.
“I think that the right thing to do for Trent Williams is to take that ‘C’ off his jersey, because he doesn’t deserve it,” former quarterback Joe Theismann said this week.
“The guy is a loser. I’ve got no use for him,” said Eric Bickel of the Junkies. “I would light that ‘C’ on fire.”
“When you wear that ‘C’ on your chest, it’s just got to mean more,” Doc Walker said on ESPN 980. “If not, then they made a bad decision.”
Williams’s critics — and they are everywhere, after Washington’s left tackle was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy — will nod their heads at this. They’ll say they aren’t mad at Williams for smoking weed, but rather for breaking his employer’s rules. They’ll say a grown man, a team captain, can’t selfishly place his own needs ahead of his team’s. And they’ll argue that we have no idea whether Williams was using marijuana for medical purposes, or just to achieve a recreational high.
That was my first reaction, too. Whatever you think about the NFL’s continued prohibition on marijuana, Williams’s choices created a gaping chasm in Washington’s roster before its most critical stretch of the season. And absent an explanation from Williams, who isn’t scheduled to address the media until after his suspension ends, it’s impossible to know his motivations.
But there are former NFL players who will laugh at this distinction between medicinal and recreational marijuana use, and shake their heads at your insistence that real leaders would never get high.
“There’s a disconnect that makes fans say, ‘How can you do this? You can’t be a captain anymore.’ [But] he was trying to take care of business so that he can be on the field,” said former NFL tight end Nate Jackson, one of the growing number of ex-players advocating that the NFL do away with its marijuana prohibition. “He might not know the science behind it to be able to explain that it’s pain management, but he does know what it makes him feel like compared to what football makes him feel like. He does know how it makes him feel compared to Percocet and those other things he’s been injected with. His own anecdotal experience is telling him this is better for him.
“People say, ‘Is it recreational or medicinal?’ For a football player, it’s the same thing,” Jackson said. “The demands of this game, on the body and the mind, are causing guys to need something, and that’s what they choose. I didn’t know any of the science behind it, but I still used it, and it helped me recover from these injuries … He’s medicating and trying to recover from incredibly brutal hits that would cripple your neighbor and [bleeping] kill your dad. Maybe that will tell you: If he was voted as a captain, he’s a smart guy; he’s a trustworthy guy; he’s a respected veteran. If that guy is using cannabis, maybe we should learn from him: that he’s doing it for a good reason, and not punish him for doing it.”
Jackson, you’ll say, is an outsider. What in the world could he know about the specifics of this case? What could he know about Trent Williams? Fine. Ask around in Washington’s locker room. See whether they believe this transgression now makes Williams a paper captain, a fake leader, someone who should lose his C.
“I think that’s way far-fetched, and you can quote me on that,” Blackmon said.
“He’s a guy we still will rely on for leadership,” Ryan Kerrigan said.
“It doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on his [captaincy] in my mind,” Coach Jay Gruden said.
“They don’t know what goes on,” center Spencer Long said of Williams’s critics. “I’m just gonna tell you: Guys aren’t going to look at him differently because of it. At least, I’m not. I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m not. And I know our offensive line room isn’t going to separate because of it. We’ve gone through too much [stuff] together. It’s not gonna happen.”
“Nope,” agreed Brandon Scherff, overhearing the conversation. “Trent’s the man.”
How much of this is regular-old locker-room brotherhood versus philosophical reflections about Williams’s precise offense? That’s tricky to sort out. But this suspension happened at a moment when players are increasingly asking tough questions about pain relief and the NFL’s brand of punishment.
The latest issue of ESPN the Magazine included an anonymous survey on the topic: 59 percent of 226 NFL players said they worry about the long-term effects of painkillers, 61 percent said fewer players would take painkillers if marijuana were allowed, more players identified marijuana as effective pain control than painkillers, and nearly a quarter said they’ve known teammates who used pot before a game.
Players have said they’ve found muscle-relaxing pain relief in marijuana, while some researchers have suggested that the drug could help mitigate the effects of concussions. Eugene Monroe, the former tackle who retired after 93 games — the exact number played by Williams — has become a persuasive evangelist for replacing prescription painkillers with marijuana; “There’s enough anecdotal evidence already to say, ‘Hey listen, we know it’s not toxic. We know it’s safer than what we’re already doing,’ ” he recently told The Post’s Adam Kilgore.
And Redskins veterans turn thoughtful when asked if players should still be getting suspended for using a substance whose legal prohibition has been relaxed in many states. Norman said this week that the issue should be revisited in the next collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s tough to equate [marijuana] with PEDs,” another veteran said. “It doesn’t seem necessarily equitable. But rules are rules.”
That’s what the criticism of Williams comes down to: Rules are rules, and he broke them.
Williams, by the way, had started 69 of the Redskins’ past 72 games, despite a litany of injuries, including a hyper-extended knee that teammates said could have sidelined him. He’s often one of the last players to exit the locker room after games, slowly limping his way down the hallway, maybe pausing to lift up his young daughter. Last year, he won the team’s Good Guy Award, for most consistently helping media members do their job.
And on the field, he remained one of football’s most graceful earth-movers, a man who could make shoveling manure look beautiful. His reputation had fully recovered from that 2011 recreational drug suspension. Now he’s starting over, with a mark on his resume some fans will never forgive.
“It’s real sad in a lot of ways,” Jackson said. “What’s the most dangerous thing in these guys’ lives? It’s [bleeping] football. Marijuana doesn’t maim anybody; it doesn’t cripple anybody. The Reefer Madness in the NFL — of course if comes from the league office by them criminalizing it. And then fans react because they want their players on the field. They want them to follow the rules. But the rules themselves, in this instance, are outdated.”
So, perhaps, is the way we react to them. Which is why it might not be time to give up on Trent Williams as a leader just yet.