Aldon Smith has made some bad decisions. In 2015, the NFL suspended the current Raider and former 49er for a calendar year for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Smith has largely been an afterthought during that time, someone throwing away a promising career in a sport that will prematurely end your life.
But now he's back, and so is the court of public opinion.
Smith is 26 years old, and a product of the digital age, which means he uses social media like nearly every other 26 year old. But unlike most of his peers, he is automatically subject to more scrutiny of his actions because he's a professional athlete. So when a video was posted on Smith's Periscope account recently that may or may not show him smoking marijuana, the response was what you'd expect for a society that still largely believes in reefer madness.
"Is Aldon Smith That Stupid?"
"Aldon Smith Might Be Dumb And Dumber"
"Suspended NFL star posts 'blunt' video — with idiotic identity reveal"
"Aldon Smith has fallen so far, so fast"
Less common were headlines like this:
"It's time for the No Fun League to get out of the pot-policing business"
That last one was not written by a cannabis blog or marijuana advocate, but instead by CBS Sports. The reporter is a veteran sports writer, but he might as well be the voice of reason for an entire nation.
Say what you will about Smith's past troubles, which include three DUI arrests and a misdemeanor gun possession conviction. Those are serious charges, no doubt. Alcohol will kill you, guns will kill you. (So will playing in the NFL.) Marijuana, on the other hand, is one of the most misunderstood drugs out there. It's also mainstreaming quite well right now, which is obviously lost on much of the sports writing world and certainly the NFL.
We should all be applauding Smith, or at least be happy for him.
The NFL maintains an archaic policy on cannabis despite research — and advocacy from a host of doctors and former players — that shows how helpful it can be for people whose heads are bashed around for a living. A study out of Tel Aviv University released three whole years ago shows that cannabis has neuroprotective qualities, which means it can help protect brain cells and preserve cognitive functions post-head injury.
It's important to note the study was done in another country, as the feds still classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning they don't see any medical value in it, thus hampering potential research in the U.S. But that doesn't mean studies here don't exist.
Earlier this year, cannabis blog Leafly reported on the potential benefits of CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the plant, in treating chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. That disease is directly linked to football players, since it derives from excessive head trauma. (The NFL tried to cover up that link.)
"What we do know are that the symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression, and aggression and that CBD is proven to benefit the endocannabinoid system, which regulates a variety of physiological process in the human body, including mood and memory," Ryan Kingsbury of CW Hemp, which makes cannabinoid extractions for medicinal purposes, told Leafly.
But the NFL would rather donate $100 million to concussion researchers friendly to the league who are not studying cannabinoids, according to a February report by ESPN.
The science is there, and as more and more states begin to legalize marijuana — California is likely to do so in November — it might be wise for the NFL to reverse its policies on cannabis use. The league is set to get a new medical officer soon, and there's speculation its drug policy could change. Maybe players won't be smoking blunts in the locker room before running into brick walls on the playing field, but they could be granted leeway to use cannabis in one of its many derivations to make their lives slightly less painful.