This week’s player testimonial is from former quarterback Jake Plummer. The talented and enigmatic quarterback known as “Jake the Snake” walked away from the game when he was just 32-years-old, leaving millions of dollars on the table.
Plummer’s reasoning for leaving professional football is complicated but cannabis helped the transition. Now, he’s working to raise funds to study how marijuana – and CBD in particular – could help the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that has been discovered in an alarming number of deceased NFL players.
This week, Plummer joined seven other former NFL players in signing an open letter from Doctors for Cannabis Regulation that calls on the league to change its policy on marijuana. The letter asks the NFL to consider embracing cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to painkillers and points out promising research showing pot’s potential to protect against the long term effects of traumatic brain injury. The NFL currently bans cannabis in all forms.
The letter is particularly noteworthy as Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan also signed, making him the only current player to openly advocate for cannabis in the NFL.
Plummer spoke to HIGH TIMES editor-in-chief Dan Skye for our Pot and the NFL feature in the November 2016 issue. Be sure to check back here each Sunday for more player testimonials.
–Mike Gianakos, managing editor
Jake Plummer (quarterback) played from 1997 to 2006 for the Arizona Cardinals and the Denver Broncos.
We recorded a PSA last year, “When the Bright Lights Fade.” It’s a campaign to raise funds to explore how CBD can help treat and prevent the onset of symptoms associated with CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] and traumatic brain injury. It was going slow – then Eugene Monroe [the Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle who was recently cut by the team, several months after speaking out in favor of pot] stepped up and funded $80,000 of his own money to help us reach the $100,000 goal to get it started. We’re forming the assessments with Dr. Ryan Vandry at Johns Hopkins University and Marcel Bon-Miller, who’s over at the University of Pennsylvania.
We can’t outright say we’re studying cannabis in the NFL, because we’d probably meet a lot of resistance. So our ultimate goal in the study, which we’re phrasing as a study on substance use and player health, is to look at players throughout a whole season: their use of not only cannabis, but opioids and anti-inflammatories, alcohol – whatever they’re taking. Hopefully, we’ll have enough players sign up so we can have them take surveys each week. We’d do an initial evaluation prior to the season, one after, and track their progress, their healing times, their recovery from concussions and whatever else we can.
There’s never been a study done like this. There are players who want to donate, but our ultimate hope is that the NFL helps us fund the research. If they don’t, we’re going to get players to fund it, and you know how much fun we can have with that: “Here’s a study that could be monumental to players’ health – a way to get off opioid addictions, a way to protect them from brain injury – and the NFL won’t fund it? But the players will!” It could be a really big hit for us, a bad hit for them.
I’ve been out of the league now for 10 years. I played 10 straight seasons, went through health issues as far as my body needing to be fixed, a couple surgeries on my hips. But the mental side of being done with football – trying to assimilate to a normal life and being okay with being a retired football player, doing nothing in daily life that’s as exciting or as much fun – well, my way was to get completely away from football. That’s why I moved up to North Idaho.
I was basically gone for about five years. Then some opportunities started coming my way pertaining to this, and this is the biggest one yet. I pinch myself and go: “Wow – I’m not only fighting for cannabis, but possibly helping a lot of my former teammates and opponents live better lives outside of the game.” That’s my main focus, to hopefully help these guys get off opioids and maybe not pull the trigger when they’re down in the dumps.
I know when I was playing, I could get a pill on a plane ride real easy if I needed it – if I had a hard game and got pounded a bunch, if I just needed to sleep. But there were guys who took two, three, four Percs or Vikes a day just to get through practice. Now the NFL claims they’ve tightened the screws. But if guys are addicted, there are so many avenues to get your opioids that they don’t need the NFL trainers anymore. It’s painful to play football – that’s the ultimate reality.
I found occasional relief in cannabis beginning in 2002 from the stress involved playing football. But as far as pain management, I didn’t really start using it until I had both hips operated on back in 2013 and 2014, after my career was over. After my second hip surgery, I was lying there in the hip machine, moving my leg, contemplating everything, wondering if it was worth it. That’s when I started using a lot more cannabis to deal with the pain, but also to get me out of a negative frame of mind and being mad about the injuries I was dealing with instead of embracing them, getting over them and getting active again.
It was my choice to leave the game. I think a lot of guys deal with: “See you later. We don’t want you anymore – you’re not good enough. You’re cut.” A lot of them have to deal with that and go through mental anguish. I know some guys I played with in the early 2000s who hate football and don’t want to go to games and can’t stand the thought of it. It’s sad, because if you played in the NFL, you’re amazing to have accomplished that. You’re a bad-ass mofo no matter what. Even if you were a punter, you’re still pretty tough. So owning that and being able to accept that is part of the healing process.
It’s fun to help guys not feel bitter about what we did, but start to own it and get involved again – to go to functions and get paid to come drink beers and play golf. I mean, good God, we put ourselves through such rigors and such sacrifice – to not enjoy your post-career is a sad thing.
Ultimately, I believe the players will be the ones who can push this issue. Obviously, decriminalizing and declassifying both marijuana and hemp will help that cause. Once that’s done and there’s no more criminal link to marijuana, there’s a chance that more players can say: “Hey, why am I forced to use only pharmaceutical options for pain relief when there’s a non-addictive, non-toxic medicine out there?”
We have to have concrete evidence and research done, which is key, because [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell is on record saying if there’s evidence that cannabis can be beneficial to players’ health, the league will look into it. So he’s set himself up. If we come back with hard evidence, they have to look into it.