On average, professional football players in the NFL have the shortest careers of any American athlete. They also play under the strictest drug-control policies of any American athlete—with, until very recently, restrictions on marijuana use tougher than the standards in American prisons.
Considering marijuana’s accepted medical benefits for pain relief and conditions stemming from head trauma—something every NFL player suffers at some point in his career, with horrible, life-altering consequences for some—maybe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would be OK with some of his players smoking a little weed now and then. Or maybe just the players in California, Washington, Colorado, Nevada (go Raiders), Washington and Massachusetts—where doing so would be legal?
As Goodell said on ESPN’s sports talk show Mike & Mike last week, he opposes removing marijuana from the NFL’s list of banned substances—because it’s bad for their health. As opposed to, like, football, which is such a healthy pastime that more and more NFL players are choosing to retire in their 20s, leaving millions of dollars of earning potential on the table, rather than subject themselves to it.
“I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use,” Goodell said, as per Pro Football Talk. “Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. All of those things have to be considered.”
“And it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game,” he continued. “We really want to help our players in that circumstance, but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that is something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”
Let’s forget for a second the half-truths and outright prevarications in what Goodell said. (What are these mysterious compounds? What are these negative consequences for which the NFL, the league whose efforts to cover up and then deny the obvious negative health effects of playing football are so herculean as to deserve their own highlight reel? We’ll never know.)
Let’s instead focus on the hypocrisy so beautiful, somewhere, a chef wearing a Laremy Tunsil (Hotty Toddy!) jersey is kissing his fingers.
As Deadspin pointed out, Goodell runs a league where doctors so routinely pump their players full of opiates in a pregame ritual so widespread and commonplace, it acquired a cutesy nickname (because who could refuse a ride on the T-train, kids!). He then went on a prominent national sports program to say, deadpan, that he doesn’t want his players smoking weed out of health concerns.
It goes without saying that playing football is by its nature a violent, risky and unhealthy behavior. If a doctor were being honest with you about your health and welfare, he or she would advise you against playing. The risks outweigh the benefits.
With marijuana, there are risks, sure.
About 10 percent of users become addicted. But as more and more current and former players insist, with backing from the medical and scientific community, smoking weed has real medical benefits. In places where cannabis is available, people use less pills—they use less opiates, for example.
Here’s Goodell again:
“So if people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisers have to tell you that. We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that. But we’ve been studying that through our advisers. To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
Only last year did the NFL hire a “chief health and medical adviser.”
According to an interview with Science magazine, this is a job to which Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel, the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, devotes one day a month, “plus some nights and weekends.” In that interview, Nabel refused to accept directly the nexus between head trauma in football and CTE, the neurodegenerative disease plaguing former football players.
If the NFL can obfuscate and deny on that point, it will take decades before Goodell hears anything positive on marijuana.