The NFL, Concussions, and the War on Weed

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

The battle against the NFL’s stance on marijuana has gained an ally.

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

The battle against the NFL’s stance on marijuana has gained an ally.

“I think for the NFL to say that cannabis does not benefit the long-term health of its players without actually having gone and done the research – I don’t think that’s an accurate statement,” said linebacker Derrick Morgan of the Tennessee Titans in a recent interview with Katie Couric.

Morgan joins Eugene Monroe, a former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman who was released this offseason after speaking up on the issue.

Monroe took to the Players’ Tribune in May to solidify his very public stance in defence of medical marijuana use among NFL players.

In the article, Monroe paints a picture of painkiller abuse in locker rooms. But it was a concussion he suffered last season that opened his mind to the absurdity of treating head trauma with drugs that carry side effects that match the symptoms of the injury, while also being highly addictive.

David Banks / Getty Images

David Banks / Getty Images


The seven-year vet cites numerous studies that point to cannabinoids, or medical marijuana, as a safe alternative to painkillers. However, the most fascinating research claims that cannabidiol – one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in marijuana – may function as a neuroprotectant, which means it can shield the cells in the brain from injury or degeneration.

Marijuana could prevent concussions in players.

Though the league would never admit it, the growing public sentiment about the danger of concussions is the only thing that could take down the juggernaut that is the National Football League.

The dominoes have already began to fall. You need to look no further than the story of former San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland.

Drafted in the third-round of the 2014 draft, Borland quickly found himself in a starting role in the esteemed 49ers’ defense. The rookie filled in for Patrick Willis after the All-Pro missed six games with a toe injury. The University of Wisconsin product excelled, racking up 107 tackles and a sack in 14 games, eight of which were starts. He even earned a vote for defensive rookie of the year.

Then he hung up the cleats.

“I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and know about the dangers?’” said Borland to Outside the Lines.

Michael Zito/AP Images

Michael Zito/AP Images

A 24-year-old, who just launched his promising NFL career but had yet to make even $1 million, was not willing to put his brain through the rigours of football.

This could be an extreme example, yet high-profile players like Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson just retired, both at age 30. These All-Pros were at the tail-end of their primes, but both dealt with nagging injuries, something they obviously considered when walking away from the game early.

The NFL is draconian when it comes to cracking down on marijuana. 19 players were suspended for testing positive for “substances of abuse”, and this year even more will follow. Despite the drug becoming legal in various states that the league operates, the war on weed rages on for NFL execs. Yet the same league actively promotes dangerous painkillers.

The NFL needs to decide who the real enemy is. Concussions are forcing players into early retirement, but also to a public outcry against the contact sport, which will make parents think twice before signing their child up for football.

There is a poetic irony that the cause of the most suspensions in the league could be the saving grace against the dangers of concussions. Resources need to be poured into research of the medical benefits of marijuana, not into the extensive testing of players.

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Follow author: @MarkStaniusz



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