The NFL announced on Tuesday that Buffalo Bills right tackle Seantrel Henderson has been suspended 10 games for a second violation this year of the league’s policy on substances of abuse.
Henderson was suspended for the first four games of this season as well.
But assuming he failed the test only because of marijuana, Henderson represents a special case. Though he accepted and did not appeal his first suspension this year, Henderson did appeal this decision and may challenge the NFL decision on legal grounds.
The 24-year old Henderson has Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. This year alone, Henderson has had to undergo two surgeries because of the disease: in January, he had 2 1/2 feet of his colon removed, and in April he underwent another procedure to reattach his intestines. In the three months between surgeries, he had to wear an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds.
Because of the sensitivity of his intestines, Henderson can’t take traditional pain medications; he used medical-grade cannabis to help him cope.
But while marijuana is now legal in an increasing number of states, by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement signed by the NFL and NFL Players Association, marijuana is off-limits. There is no exemption for medical necessity (unlike other drugs, like adderal, which players can take if they have a prescription/doctor’s note).
So Henderson is in a difficult situation: he has to take the cannabis to deal with the often-debilitating pain and discomfort that are part of Crohn’s, but currently he can’t take the one thing that will help him get back on the field.
If he were to fail a third drug test, Henderson would be banned for life, with the ability to apply for reinstatement after a year.
Henderson is reportedly considering litgation against the league, though it is unclear how he would attack things. As noted by ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, he can’t say it is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Or, the NFL (and NFLPA) could just catch up to the times – and medical science – and acknowledge that medical marijuana is a safer pain alternative for many players, not just Henderson. Unlike opioids teams freely pass out, it is non-addictive.
Henderson was a nice find for the Bills: a seventh-round pick in 2014, he started all 16 games at right tackle as a rookie. He started 10 games last season before complications from Crohn’s ended his season. He only played one game this year.