States across the country have legalized marijuana in recent years, but for the NFL, the message remains the same: no weed now, no weed anytime soon.
Appearing on Mike & Mike just hours after getting booed by apparently the entire city of Philadelphia, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell left no doubt about his league’s stance on marijuana. “I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use,” he said, per Pro Football Talk. “Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term.”
That’s a position the NFL has held for many years, regardless of whether you agree with its medical validity. However, it runs at odds to revelations The Washington Post made earlier this spring regarding the NFL’s heavy reliance on painkillers. Court documents reviewed by the Post indicated that several doctors testified that teams had administered prescription drugs improperly and violated DEA regulations on the management of controlled substances. The NFL denied those allegations.
More telling is what Goodell said next: “It’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. We really want to help our players in that circumstance but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that is something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.” Note the use of “accountable” — the NFL is preemptively seeking to avoid another round of concussion-esque lawsuits from players claiming the NFL was complicit in hypothetical negative consequences from marijuana.
Goodell noted that he is open to discussion on the issue from a medical perspective: “If people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisers have to tell you that. We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that. But we’ve been studying that through our advisers. To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
Again, take a closer look. The NFLPA is the key element in that paragraph. Earlier this year, Goodell explicitly mentioned that the NFLPA would be bringing the marijuana issue to the table in future discussions:
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) February 3, 2017
Which, as Deadspin notes, means the issue of medical marijuana use could be a bargaining chip in future labor discussions. That makes this less an issue of medical health and more of politics and deal-making.
Outside the NFL, the marijuana issue has hit a legislative tipping point. The Patriots, Rams, Chargers, Raiders, 49ers, Broncos, and Seahawks all play in states where recreational marijuana use is legal. The Cardinals, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Browns, Bengals, Bills, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Steelers, Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Saints, Ravens, and Redskins play in states that permit medical marijuana use. Only eight teams — the Falcons, Titans, Panthers, Packers, Chiefs, Colts, Texans, and Cowboys — play in states that do not permit any legal marijuana usage.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.