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Pot and the NFL

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The NFL's Pot Problem

No sport produces the kind of physical and psychological trauma that professional football does. That’s why former players are calling on the National Football League to recognize the benefits of cannabis.

Cannabis and the NFL are joined at the hip. Estimates suggest that more than half of the league’s players use it. That’s roughly 1,000 of the best head-smashers in the world. However, half of my high-school football team didn’t smoke weed; maybe only 20 percent did. In college, it got a little higher – probably 40 percent. But in the NFL, it’s over 50 percent. So what accounts for the increase?

To come to an honest conclusion – one that would benefit both the league and its players – the stigma must be detached from this discussion. The stigma is that if you use cannabis, you’re a loser, essentially. A burnout.

Of course, there are no losers in the NFL. These athletes represent the cream of the crop, the strongest and fastest. Persevering in the football world requires a mastery of pain management. Football involves constant, daily, painful trauma to your physical body. And pain serves a purpose on planet Earth. It directs attention to a problem that must be attended to.

But football says ha-ha-ha to all that. Here, pain is a choice. Pain is a hurdle. Pain is pleasure. Football players become sadistic, masochistic pain-seekers who push through every “No Thru Street” sign and every “Cliff Ahead” sign and every “Stop, Fucking STOP!” sign to appease the demands of the US football-industrial complex. Enduring football pain is a path to salvation in America. So goes the journey – to each man his own approach. Football players cannot stop. That’s the point. They’re doing this for you!

And so the athletes who make up the NFL are an excellent field to study when it comes to brain trauma. Because it’s not just brain trauma – it’s repetitive brain trauma. Smash, smash, smash. Every day, every week.

SMASH.

But look at them! They smash, then pop right back and high-five each other like nothing ever happened. Look at that – they’re smiling! They’re fucking laughing on the sidelines! They look fine, no worse for the wear.

Listen to that player speaking on the sidelines. He sure looks like he’s talking fine and thinking fine – although the questions he’s being asked don’t seem to give him much room to think. But he looks okay, is the point.

These men are taking a daily punishment that would cripple your neighbor and kill your grandpa. How are they able to withstand this punishment? Is it something in their genes? Their training methods? The medicines they ingest? Their desire to be “The One”?

Whatever it is that keeps these men racing back into the tornado of hammers, they do it – over and over. And for many of them, cannabis is part of the recipe. It helps them withstand repetitive blunt-force trauma to the brain. Cannabis, it seems, prevents brain injuries. Cannabis prevents concussions and helps the brain heal after having one.

What more does the NFL need to hear besides that? Prevents concussions = prevents lawsuits. The only thing that can kill the NFL is a lawsuit.

The legal cannabis industry is becoming a lucrative market, attracting reputable investors and researchers. It’s a ripe moment for the league. The NFL has an opportunity to lead the charge in a budding science and contribute valuable research to a field saturated with interest. And not just in terms of head-trauma research, but also by using cannabis as an alternative to the opioid painkillers that are ravaging our communities. They’re ravaging our NFL communities as well – at a much faster clip.

America is awash in pills, rattling in orange bottles, folded up in white paper bags and delivered by a guy with a degree behind a counter in a white coat. So it’s okay to go swimming again in the river of pills.

Black River… floating slowly and looking up at a starless sky, the trees growing fangs on the banks, reaching in to pluck us out with bony branches and devour us. Either that or we drown.

So what’ll it be, then? For many of us, it’s the decision to use cannabis as an alternative pain medication to opioids – as well as an alternative to a variety of other pharma: sleep meds, mood stabilizers, etc. – to avoid the Black River altogether.

It’s a way out of the dark room, an avenue to rediscovering the self. That means rediscovering the pain. That means facing it with the protection that cannabis offers. That means running back into the tornado of hammers with the scientific seal of approval.

As of now, NFL players who use cannabis must operate in the shadows. Intelligent, successful men are shamed into keeping their valuable epiphanies about cannabis-induced relief to themselves. Football players are pincushions for needles and guinea pigs for experimental pain and anti-inflammatory medication. But many players prefer cannabis, because cannabis is more effective.

This truth exposes the colossal misuse of resources by the NFL. The sum of all the parts of the NFL medical apparatus is less effective in curing the football body than a single herb, administered by the patient himself.

The NFL’s ego is always in play. A very sensitive fella, this NFL guy. But if he were able to swallow his embarrassment and focus instead on the implications of this discovery, he may find solutions to a few of his other problems hiding in the buds of this complex plant. Administering cannabis to current and former players would cut health costs, reduce brain trauma, reduce concussion-related litigation, create fewer opioid addicts, and provide the NFL and the NFL Players Association with an affordable way to insure vested veterans for life, which is really the rub here.

Former players need a lifetime of health care for the injuries they sustained on the football field. Cannabis care would, I’m fairly certain, be a most welcome benefit for a significant percentage of former players dealing with a variety of post-football cognitive and orthopedic problems, most of which have not been thoroughly researched and therefore can’t be addressed.

We need people in white lab coats to tell players that cannabis is good. Football players aren’t supposed to use their minds, remember? Shut up and play. Your ideas are of no use to us, and if you do speak up, we’ll assume you’re a blubbering, blustering meathead.

“Me football player. Me eat steak.”

That’s the stereotype held by many people, both inside and outside the league. It comes, I assume, from watching what we do to each other on the field. SMASH! “Wow… no way he’s thinking straight after that!”

You wouldn’t think so. You’d think we were all scrambled eggs by now. But some of us can still think. Some of us can still be inspired. Some of us still believe in love… and I think we all know why.

Nate Jackson played tight end from 2003 to 2009 for the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns. He’s the author of Slow Getting Up and  Fantasy Man. (Jackson was also featured as the HIGH TIMES Interview in the June ’14 issue.)

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