Marijuana & the NFL: The Current Landscape and Future Outlook

In order to help you understand the NFL’s policy on marijuana use, allow me to lay out a scenario for you. 

You’re an NFL player who just finished putting your body through about 80 high-speed collisions, and you’d like to give your muscles and bones proper rest to start your weekly rehabilitation process. You know that sleep is crucial to healing and regeneration. But your body aches in so many different places that you need a painkiller to fall asleep. There are two options available, and each has its own side effects.

  • Option (a): nausea, headaches, dramatic mood changes, abdominal pain, difficulty urinating, and potential addiction.
  • Option (b): potential harm to lungs, increased appetite, and temporarily impaired motor skills, among others.

Option (a) – Vicodin — is about as common as a helmet in NFL dressing rooms, and the sports world is replete with tragic stories of wounded and tormented athletes becoming addicted to it, or one of its opioid brethren.

Option (b) – marijuana – is listed under the league’s banned substances, despite many medical professionals  agreeing that it is far less dangerous than opioid pain-killers. Countless players have been suspended for using marijuana, including former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon (Browns) — who received a year-long suspension and has still yet to be reinstated by the league — along with Randy Gregory (Cowboys), Karlos Williams (Bills), Darren Waller (Ravens), and Martavis Bryant (Steelers).

Those suspensions have come even though marijuana has been proven effective as a form of pain relief, and has its benefits when dealing with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), an issue the NFL continues to downplay and ignore.

As player safety continues to be a high-priority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell – and public opinion on marijuana continues to become more enlightened — it’s only a matter of time before the league removes it from its list of banned substances.

The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire following the 2020 season. The league’s stance on marijuana has already been a major talking point during negotiations between the NFL and NFL Players Association on a new CBA. Many experts,including Davis Matthews at,don’t believe a new CBA will be signed until the league adjusts its hypocritical stance. As Matthews wrote, “[w]ith a new CBA on the horizon, you can bet the National Football League Players Association, with the backing of many owners, will fight hard for the safety of its players. Don’t be surprised if changes are made even before the current agreement expires.”

The NFL certainly seems to be trending in the right direction. Goodell and the league have offered to partner with the NFLPA in researching the benefits of marijuana as a painkiller, and it’s a topic the players’ association has already begun researching on its own, too. Hopefully everyone comes to the light sooner rather than later so more players don’t suffer the same fate as Gordon.



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