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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If You Like Marijuana, You Should Boycott the NFL

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 2:51 PM

click to enlarge Done wrong. - FLICKR/ERIK DROST
Josh Gordon is no angel. The Cleveland Browns wide receiver, who was suspended for the entirety of the 2014 NFL season on Wednesday for marijuana use, is a person, a thinking and sentient human being.

Presumably, he is also one of the 75 percent of NFL players who know that marijuana is more benign than alcohol. Gordon may also be one of the league's marijuana users who recognize that in addition to helping with the myriad aches and pains one must play through in order keep their job in professional football, cannabis may help stave off the "reward" players "enjoy" after a long career: CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disintegration of one's brain thanks to concussions.

The NFL's drug policy calls for a season-long suspension for a repeat drug "offender." This is no secret or surprise; this is the deal to which the NFL's employees agreed and the rules under which they work. The league has a few defenders today, who point out that Gordon knew what he was doing and knew what he risked by using cannabis.

We offer a different point. Anyone who supports marijuana legalization ought to boycott pro football this year. 
Concussions are by far still football's biggest problem. Just this week, a former college football standout who quit the game and then died at 25 was revealed to have CTE (which can only be positively diagnosed in a postmortem brain examination).

Thousands of former players have sued the league, which may end up paying out more than a billion dollars for allegedly covering up knowledge on how badly the game hurt its players. Meanwhile, players have also sued the Players Association, the group that negotiates their collective bargaining agreement with the league.

That's the same document that includes the league's drug testing policy, which, as Deadspin pointed out in June, is 10 times as hard on pot as the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

Researchers including Harvard University's Lester Grinspoon, one of the marijuana movement's heroes, have urged the NFL to fund research into how cannabis could help stave off or even heal CTE (cannabis appears to help other brain conditions, like Alzheimer's, by encouraging neuroplasticity).

Gordon blamed an early positive drug test on codeine in cough syrup, and he tried to pass off his most recent positive pot test on second-hand smoke. Both of those defenses are laughable.

Far sillier is the example of Ravens running back Ray Rice, who will miss just two games for an ugly incident of domestic violence. Also awaiting suspension is 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who pleaded guilty to a DUI and weapons charges and supposedly told a TSA agent that he had a bomb. 

So there it is: the substance that the NFL cracks down upon the hardest could also be a palliative for its biggest problem. 

Pro football is a big deal in America and in the Bay Area. It's big business, and it's also a lot of fun for a lot of people, ourselves included.

The NFL is also abusive, exploitative, and incredibly backwards-thinking on a host of fronts, not just drug policy. The spectacle of an NFL game should not sit easy with anyone who supports change in American cannabis policy.

Like Josh Gordon, anyone on the right side of drug policy should sit this season out. 
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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