The cannabis industry has leaked into just about every crevice of society, including sports. As more and more states legalize cannabis, whether recreationally or medically, athletes in the country have come out advocating for the use of cannabis in the sports world. Most recently, Calvin Johnson admitted to smoking cannabis after every game of his 8-year NFL career to avoid opioid addiction. Many athletes, especially in the NFL, have not only turned away from the sport but have made it their mission to change the misconception behind cannabis and sports culture.
Last month, former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson came out and discussed his cannabis usage with Sports Illustrated to further highlight the struggles athletes go through every day.
“When I got to the league, [there] was opioid abuse,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated. “You really could go to the training room and get what you wanted. I can get Vicodin; I can get Oxycontin. It was too available. I used Percocet and stuff like that. And I did not like the way that made me feel. I had my preferred choice of medicine. Cannabis.”
In the same interview, Johnson estimated to have suffered at least nine concussions throughout his career. The six-time pro bowler retired at the age of 30, claiming to focus on his health over the profession. This, unfortunately, is becoming a new trend in the NFL. Last year former New England tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement at the age of 29 for the same reason. The three-time Superbowl champion called it quits last year after a career which included nine surgeries, 20 concussions, and 5 blackouts. One cannot simply ignore the substantial amount of information out there in regards to how cannabis can help with brain trauma. It appears young players are starting to understand and realize the consequences of being hit so many times. The league has recently started to pay more attention to the subject, and hopefully, we see a healthier NFL game in the future.
Johnson and Gronkowski aren’t the first athletes to bravely come out and express their concerns for the safety of football as well as the benefits cannabis could have on the players.
Nate Jackson is largely considered to be one of the first NFL players to advocate for cannabis use in the NFL. In 2014, Jackson wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times, publicly calling out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the league’s absurd marijuana policy. Two years later former offensive lineman Eugene Monroe wrote an Op-Ed for the same publication, expressing his concerns as well.
“We now know that these drugs are not as safe as doctors thought, causing higher rates of addiction, causing death all around our country,” Monroe told the New York Times, “and we have cannabis, which is far healthier, far less addictive and, quite frankly, can be better in managing pain.”
These players and many others have advocated for cannabis in the NFL as a safe alternative to other addictive solutions. The NFL isn’t the only sport that has strong advocates for marijuana usage. The NBA has a handful of players who have stood up for the incorporation of cannabis in the league.
Two of the first NBA players to advocate for marijuana use after their retirement would be Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, who have both advocated in different ways. Jackson openly talks about his marijuana usage (before games) and urges the league to change its policy. Harrington, however, has written an Op-Ed in The Player’s Tribune expressing his support for marijuana. Harrington also claims that everyone, from the players to the executives, is consuming cannabis today. Another NBA player to follow suit is Matt Barnes, who also claims 85 percent of the league smokes weed. Barnes, who won a championship in 2017 with the Golden State Warriors, is one of today’s biggest advocates for marijuana in the league, appearing on many shows to talk about the relationship between cannabis and sports.
There are still many more athletes who are strong supporters of marijuana usage in their sports. UFC fighter Nate Diaz, for example, smoked a joint on live television and constantly advocates and consumes it in his spare time, along with his brother Nick. Then there’s the handful of athletes that have smoked in the past but don’t really advocate for it openly. These athletes more use their athletic ability to prove marijuana doesn’t make someone “lazy.” Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever with 28 medals, has been at the center of attention for a 2009 video of the swimmer smoking marijuana from a bong. Other athletes in similar positions include Connor McGregor, Tim Lincecum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Randy Moss, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Athletes are going to continue to push for marijuana to be removed from the banned substance list in their sport, but nothing will likely happen until marijuana is federally decriminalized. There is still hope, recently the NFL passed an initiative to conduct more research on the effect of marijuana on athletes. This data could lead to the NFL changing their policy and opening up the conversation for the rest of the sports world.