“I’m not a dry snitch. I’m not going to put a percentage on how much the league smokes, but I certainly enjoyed my fair share on a regular basis throughout my career,” Long said. “So, you know, and I was never afraid to say that, and I’m able to say it more explicitly now: If not for that, I’m not as capable of coping with the stressors of day-to-day NFL life. A lot of guys get a lot of pain management out of it. [Anti-inflammatory drug] Toradol did more pain management for me.”
Long also pointed out the ineffectiveness of the league’s testing policy for recreational drugs, in which players are tested only once a year at some point between late April and early August. Joining others, he said it isn’t hard to pass the test.
“I think testing is arbitrary. The league, speaking plainly, knows damn well what they’re doing,” Long said. “Testing players once a year for ‘street drugs’, which is a terrible classification for marijuana, is kind of silly because, you know, players know when the test is. We can stop. And in that month or two that you stop, you’re going to reach for the sleeping pills, you’re going to reach for the pain killers, you’re going to reach for the bottle a little bit more.
“On the weekend you’re going to have a few more drinks, and a few turns into a few too many. . . . It’s just not the same. If you’re serious about players not smoking, you’d be testing more often. I hope they go the opposite direction and kind of realize how arbitrary doing that one test a year is.”
Marijuana remains on the NFL’s banned-substances list even though more than half the country — 33 states plus the District of Columbia — allows marijuana use in some form. Ten states have completely legalized it, and five of them are home to NFL franchises. When the Raiders move to Las Vegas next season, that number will grow to six. This week, the league and the players’ union announced the creation of a joint committee that will study alternative methods of pain management, and considering that a number of players have said marijuana is a safer and more effective way to curtail the chronic soreness that comes with being an NFL player, marijuana will be a topic of conversation, both on the committee and when the owners and the players try to work out a new collective bargaining agreement in the coming years.
Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told USA Today this week that there hasn’t been enough scientific study on whether marijuana is a viable alternative to prescription painkillers.
“I think many times there’s a narrative that says: ‘I have severe pain. I’m either going to take opioids or marijuana.’ Those are the only two choices,” Sills said. “And that is absolutely wrong. There are many other treatment strategies.
“I think that the science, unfortunately, has lagged behind a lot of the popular opinion and press on this,” Sills continued. “We’ve got a lot more opinion than we do science. I hope the science will catch up.”
But to Long, the evidence about marijuana’s benefits are clear.
“We should be headed to a place where we allow players to enjoy what I would not even call a drug — it’s far less dangerous than guzzling a fifth of alcohol and going out after a game,” he said. “Chances are the player won’t even make it to the club [laughs] to do this sort of thing that we all kind of wag our finger at when we hear about a guy getting in a fight or getting a DUI, you’re never going to read about him sitting on the couch and binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones’ again.
“I think from a standpoint of what’s safer for people and the player, certainly people in the spotlight, it is far less harmful than alcohol. It is far less harmful than tobacco, and at various points in the league’s history, they have engaged in partnerships on different levels with those respective industries.”
Later, Long wrote on Twitter that marijuana has “helped a lot of guys improve their careers and lives,” adding, “I wish this wasn’t a rare enough admission to go viral.” He also criticized some media characterizations of his interview, writing that he had been discussing “the destigmatization of use and the need for the NFL to stop testing in an arbitrary and punitive fashion.”
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