NFL, NFLPA announce agreements for players' mental health, pain management – including possibility of marijuana

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Contributor
The NFL and NFL Players Association - with executive director DeMaurice Smith shown here - announced initiatives aimed at better pain management and mental health for players. (AP)
The NFL and NFL Players Association - with executive director DeMaurice Smith shown here - announced initiatives aimed at better pain management and mental health for players. (AP)

The NFL and NFL Players Association announced two agreements on Monday, both aimed at bettering the health and wellness of the league’s players.

One possibly opens the door for marijuana and cannabinoids to come off the banned substances list.

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Formation of pain management committee

The league and union will form a joint pain management committee, which will include medical experts appointed by both the NFL and NFLPA and will establish uniform standards for teams regarding pain management and the use of prescription medications.

It will also conduct research on pain management and alternative therapies.

Each team must appoint a “pain management specialist” before the start of the coming season; he or she must possess an agreed-upon list of credentials, including active engagement in pain management.

Marijuana and cannabinoids are not explicitly mentioned in the language, but “alternative therapies” seems to offer a hint that they will be considered. Many current and former NFL players have touted the benefits of marijuana and cannabinoids for pain management, saying they’re as effective as prescription drugs without the danger of possible addiction.

Mental health and wellness committee

Perhaps more importantly, the league and union are taking significant steps to help ensure players’ mental health and well-being.

They’re forming a comprehensive mental health and wellness committee, which will “develop educational programs for players, coaches, club personnel and players' family members regarding mental health and wellness.” That committee will collaborate with local and national mental health and suicide-prevention groups to help reduce the stigma that persists about mental health.

Additionally, every team must now retain a behavioral health clinician who is focused on supporting players’ mental and emotional health and well-being. He or she must be hired by the start of training camp this year and be at the team facility for at least 8-to-12 hours per week.

They must also conduct mandatory mental health educational sessions for players and coaching staff.

The clinician must also create and conduct team rehearsals of a mental health emergency plan to implement for this season.

The Panthers hired a director of player wellness last season, certified therapist Tish Guernin.

You can argue these measures should have already been in place, but progress is progress, even if it’s slower than we’d like.

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