This article originally appeared on The Fresh Toast.
The NFL stands as an American institution and if you reserve any doubt regarding this statement, look no further than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent comments on marijuana. Goodell appeared on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” radio show to promote the NFL Draft and address some issues facing the league. Prior to the draft, two players returned diluted samples in their drug tests, earning conclusions they were trying to mask a positive test of illegal substances, like marijuana, or were superfans of iLoveMakonnen’s Drink More Water mixtape series.
This led the interview into a larger conversation about the NFL’s response to the growing voices of current NFL players—an ESPN survey indicated 71% of current NFL players want marijuana legal—and former players—advocates include Eugene Monroe, Jake Plummer, Eben Britton, and Ricky Williams—urging the league to allow cannabis usage as medical treatment and pain management. Considering the widespread opioid crisis throughout the country and NFL, players want alternative options instead of falling into the dark grips of painkiller addiction.
We look at it from a medical standpoint. 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. […] Medical marijuana is something that is evolving and that is something that at some point the medical advisers may come to us and say ‘this is something you should consider.’
Throughout his tenure as commissioner, the joke on Goodell revolves around him secretly being a robot. On the surface you chuckle because it makes sense: he speaks in this drone monotone, he seems capable of only two expressions—ON or OFF—and repeats phrases often, like “Tom Brady deflated those footballs” and “I’ll be back.”
Though I laugh, I’ve never fully bought the joke. Because robots should include tight systems of logic and “IF-THEN” functions and the like. Yet very little of Goodell’s actions and speech reflect logic in any way, shape, or form. He panders and promotes “the shield” of the NFL, protecting it at all costs. You wished his comments followed any rigid patterns or reasoning, but they do not.
I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use. 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 an 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. 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.
Compare his comments at the NFL draft this year to what he said last year. A big narrative of the 2016 NFL Draft regarded Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil, a premiere offensive tackle and obvious top-5 pick, if not higher. Tunsil dropped to the No. 13 overall pick, in part because a video leaked of Tunsil smoking marijuana from a gas mask. When asked of the incident, Goodell commented, “I think it’s all part of what makes the draft so exciting.”
Some necessary fact checks and analysis on Goodell’s present-day speech, however.
1) “Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say.”
You don’t need to smoke marijuana to consume marijuana. Players could digest edibles—instead of Vicodin or OxyContin—or use vaporizers. For joint pain like linemen with torn-up hands or a quarterback’s throwing shoulder, players could rub a topical CBD-infused cream on their skin. In fact, former NFL lineman Eben Britton has already developed that product through his BeTru Organics company. The NFL likes to pretend its former employees don’t exist, so I thought to offer the tip.
2) “It does have an 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.”
Addiction comes in many forms. The DSM-5 and thereby the scientific community labels marijuana addiction as “cannabis use disorder.” It qualifies this disorder from mild, moderate, and severe cases under 11 indicators like craving using marijuana and cannabis usage impairing relationships, work life, and more. Developing two or more indicators within 12 months could mean you have mild cannabis use disorder, though researchers say this test requires more “good science” so we may better understand how we may help those in serious need.
We must also consider Leslie L. Iverson’s The Science of Marijuana. Iverson, a pharmacology professor at the University of Cambridge in England, concluded after sifting through decades of international research that 9% of marijuana users developed a serious addiction. Comparatively, 15% of alcohol users, 18% of cocaine users, and 23% of heroin users would become addicted to their drug.
Related Story: Advocates Use Super Bowl To Push Medical Marijuana For NFL
Then there are the opioids, especially in the NFL. From a recent CNN.com article regarding the 2015 lawsuit by more than 1,800 players against the NFL’s reckless use of painkillers: “In calendar year 2012, on average, according to the complaint, each team was prescribed 5,777 doses of anti-inflammatories and 2,270 doses of narcotics. Considering that each team has 53 players, that could amount to about 150 doses of drugs per player each year.”
Meanwhile, a 2012 CBSNews article described oxycodone—popular brand: OxyContin—and hydrocodone—popular brand: Vicodin—are the No. 1 and 2 most abused medicines in the U.S., according to the DEA. Tolerance can quickly develop with these drugs and lead to individuals seeking stronger highs. This is why four out of five new heroin users report previously misusing prescription painkillers.
These opioids and anti-inflammatories are dangerous. If used incorrectly, the effects can be detrimental. The NFL has demonstrated the negative effects of heedless opioid usage. Again, this is why more than 1,800 former players are suing the league. All researchers and experts and former players ask first and foremost for more research to better understand marijuana and its effects. While the NFL primarily exists as a sports entertainment empire, you can also view the league as a giant opportunity to test various cases of pain management under a controlled and regulated environment. Or, as Britton told me, “the NFL is the vehicle for the most extreme case study of the medical efficacy of cannabis and CBD.”
3) “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.”
That says it all, right? A league battling the aforementioned painkiller lawsuit and a concussion epidemic causing more lawsuits doesn’t want more. Particularly when its employees include an alarming number of domestic abuse and murder cases. The statement reveals how the NFL’s primary objective is to protect itself, not its players.
4) “We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that.”
Back in early April, the NFL held an owners-only meeting in Arizona. It was the largest collective of Lacoste polos and hair plugs recorded in human existence. (Just kidding.)
At the meeting, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones urged the NFL to reconsider its stance on cannabis. As we noted, Jones went so far to suggest dropping the league’s cannabis prohibition. The key sentence from NBC’s Mike Florio, however, is this: “Jones was reminded that the issue falls under the umbrella of collective bargaining, which would require the players to make one or more concessions in exchange for significant changes to the marijuana prohibition.”
This falls in line with what Britton told me, “I think they’re going to use it as a bargaining chip in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations.”
When Goodell says, “We’ll sit down and talk about that,” this is what he means. The NFL knows its employees want access to marijuana as pain treatment. It does not matter whether they need it or not, though former and current players would argue otherwise. Its owners don’t even wish to test for marijuana anymore, but they will maintain their stance to better their position at a bargaining table, to exchange something the owners want for something the players insist they need.
If you ever doubted the NFL isn’t a ruthless cutthroat enterprise hell bent on its capitalistic ambitions, here it is. These comments by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell are a smokescreen and drip with insidious intentions. His peddling this reefer madness rhetoric is dangerous and harm far more than it benefits, which singularly is NFL owners. Roger Goodell and the NFL are not stupid or ignorant about cannabis; they are very, very smart and playing these narratives to their advantage and to obscure other pressing issues. I would say it’s a move straight from the playbook of the man we call President.