To illustrate my level of naivete when it comes to drugs …
It was 1981, and a bunch of us fellas mapped out a baseball spring-training trip from Greeley, Colorado, to Arizona. I needed my mom’s advice on one thing: The other guys would, on this trip, be smoking pot. What should I do? Should I try it? Would I get a second-hand high? If I‘m in the same hotel room with a pothead, would I become a pothead?
So, yeah, I asked Mom. About me smoking pot.
Oh, by the way, I was 21 years old.
Some time has passed, but I remain largely ignorant when it comes to the culture of marijuana, whether it’s fun recreationally, whether it’s beneficial medically, whether it’s a viable coping method for the mental and physical battering that an NFL player must endure to survive. (I expand on this in my Facebook Live Video from The Star in Frisco here ...)
But I do know this: Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states, and medical marijuana is legal is about 30. And yet the NFL continues its “War On Drugs,’’ almost certainly knowing it’s a war it cannot win.
“I think it should be a part of what’s looked at,” Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones tells ProFootballTalk.com. “When you re-look at the whole program, I think you should take a look at every aspect of it. From the testing to the discipline to the amounts … our goal should be to help players who have sicknesses and addictions and make them better people off the field … and make sure we’re doing everything the best way we can do it.
“When you look at something like that you have to look at, ‘How do we do it in society right now? How does that affect the way a player sees his situation in that lens?’ And then make decisions based on that.”
Stephen’s views echo those expressed by his father, Jerry Jones, at the NFL Owners Meetings in early April. Critics of the Cowboys carp that this is all about getting suspended defensive end Randy Gregory cleared by a quickie rules change.
But it’s much bigger than that.
It’s about whether the NFL’s approach is archaic, about whether the present rules help or hurt the players, about whether the NFL’s decriminalization of pot would help or hurt the game.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tells ESPN, "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.''
The NBA takes what some might call a more “enlightened’’ approach. NBA commissioner Adam Silver tells GQ, “We’re much more concerned about HGH testing and designer performance-enhancing drugs. … it’s our strong preference that our players do not consume marijuana. We believe it will affect their performance on the court. That said, marijuana testing is something that’s collectively bargained with the players’ association, and we adjust to the times.”
“Adjust to the times.’’ The NBA has done so by privately acknowledging what former Chicago Bulls guard and three-time Duke All-American Jay Williams says loudly.
“It’s easy for doctors to prescribe you Oxycontin and look I was addicted to it for five plus years so I know,” Williams tells FOXBusiness.com. “But when you say marijuana you get a reaction, ahhh, it’s a gateway drug.”
Williams estimates that 75 to 80 percent of athletes use marijuana in the NBA.
“You see pictures of guys in California going in and getting their medical marijuana cards. And I’m not just saying athletes, let’s talk about society. I know a lot of people that use it. It’s something that the whole world is becoming more progressive with. So it’s about time some of these entities do as well,” he says.
In the NBA, it takes a third infraction to face a major penalty - a five-game suspension. In the NFL, a second infraction means a two-game fine - that’s one-eighth of your season, and one-eighth of your paycheck.
Oh, and in the NHL and in Major League Baseball? The leagues simply look the other way when it comes to marijuana use.
The Cowboys’ specific push here isn’t about recreational use, but rather about the NFL’s ability to help troubled players.
Says Stephen: “Jerry’s opinion, my opinion, is this program, this system, has been in place for a long time. I think it needs to be heavily scrutinized in terms of its results. Is it helping players in terms of their accountability? And, obviously, addiction is a sickness … We should all want the very best for our players. We should want the very best for our organizations and we should want the very best for our fans, and that’s anything that has to do with the NFL.’’
Part of that, of course, is more than just the concern for the athletes’ welfare; it’s also shuffling the rules in a way that keeps athletes on the field. That’s why this isn’t just about Gregory and the Cowboys. It’s about the Patriots and some of their stars, about the Steelers and their stars. Publicly, some teams won’t be standing alongside the Joneses here. But privately?
Many of them prefer that their players avoid suspensions for actions that are no longer universally illegal. And if you doubt that, all you need to do is reflect on Williams’ NBA experience, or on the hard numbers from the NFL … and from civilian life.
Opiate painkillers of the sort NFL teams commonly prescribe to their players kill over 30,000 Americans a year via overdose. Almost 90,000 Americans die annually due to alcohol-related causes. (I can argue that if the alcohol industry wasn’t among the NFL’s most powerful advertising partners, and if somehow the marijuana industry was an NFL advertiser, Goodell’s stance would soften substantially.)
It used to be argued that the difference between marijuana and the two aforementioned drugs is that painkillers are legal and the alcohol is legal.
But now, increasingly, marijuana is legal, too. Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a review showing “substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.”
Says Stephen: “We should take a long hard look at how we’re doing this and see if there’s a way, a better way to do it. What that is, I don’t have the answer. But we have a lot of smart people that can get in there and analyze something and really make some good decisions and see if there need to be changes.”
There is no sensible reason for the NFL and the NFL Players Association to politicize this. It’s been suggested that the owners will use the issue as as leverage against the players as it relates to the next (2020) collective bargaining agreement. I would counter that the NFL and the NFLPA should shelve “leverage’’ to instead focus together on the health of the game and the health of its players. ... and that both factions "win'' by doing so.
I’m with Stephen regarding part of this story: I don’t know all the answers, either.
But the sense in ending the “War on Drugs’’ because both sides of the “war’’ should actually be on the same side?
That answer I do know.