Recent comments from the NFL Players Association director, DeMaurice Smith, indicate that the union may soon push the league to change their drug policy regarding the use of marijuana. With medicinal and recreational use being legalized in a rising number of states through the U.S., Smith seems to feel it’s time for the NFL to reassess the issue.
As reported by the Washington Post, DeMaurice Smith discussed the changing social and medical climates regarding marijuana. One of the areas he addressed is the basic shift in perception:
“Obviously [we] understand the changes in legalization all over the country. I don’t know how many people here have kids or grew up the way that you grew up, but people think differently.”
Many of us grew up thinking that marijuana was no better than or different from cocaine or heroin; a byproduct of the “war on drugs” and the public school system. Time has seen that stigma fall away, though, and especially over the last decade as marijuana legislation has changed in slightly over half of the United States.
One reason for these changes is the rising appreciation for marijuana in the medical community. Given other health concerns facing the NFL right now, Smith had to admit that there needed to be a serious consideration of its potential benefits.
“We have to do a better job of knowing if our players are suffering from other potentially dangerous psychological issues like depression, right? So if I look at this myopically as just a recreational use of marijuana and miss the fact that we might have players suffering from depression, what have I fixed?”
Regarding the medical issues surrounding marijuana, Smith also stated:
“We will be looking at the issue of the efficacy of using marijuana, along with looking at opioid use and all of the ways in which our players are treated by physicians and sometimes not treated well by physicians and, being blunt, the ways in which they self-treat. . . .”
Perhaps the most important aspect of DeMaurice Smith’s comments was in the way the NFL will deal with policy violations in the future. Even if marijuana remains a banned substance, it’s clear that Smith and the NFL Players Association want to see a different handling of the players who run afoul of the policy:
“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate. I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”
Cowboys fans should be interested in this development after the last few seasons.
We just watched defensive end Randy Gregory, talented but troubled, lose nearly an entire season to his marijuana addiction. He is now facing a one-year ban that could cost him most of 2017 as well. We’ve also had the recent experience with Rolando McClain, although marijuana was just one of his vices.
Right now, the NFL already has a slightly relaxed policy on marijuana compared to other drugs. They allow an additional offense prior to entering the suspensions and fines are less severe. That may be roadblock to additional softening; the league already feeling as if they’re treating marijuana users more mercifully than others.
The NFL’s concussion crisis has brought them far closer to the medical community than at any point in its history, and perhaps in the history of all professional sports. Blind dismissal of marijuana really won’t work anymore with so many other health-related discussion swirling around the league. Even if policies don’t change, the NFL will want to show they’ve performed due diligence.
Time will tell if the NFLPA really does propose changes and if the NFL is willing to budge. For now, it’s just another facet of one of the country’s most wide-ranging discussions.