In a rare concession from the National Football League, officials are preparing to make changes to its substance abuse policy in its next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The NFL has begun to realize the futility of keeping all players from using marijuana. Especially for teams in the legal states. At the next CBA, we may see a reflection of that sentiment from the league.
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According to NBC Sports ProFootballTalk, the league has been considering this as far as two years ago, when former football player Eben Britton stated that he believed that the league would use marijuana as a “bargaining chip” in CBA negotiations. The details of the concessions aren’t known. A complete abandonment (and implicit legalization) of marijuana is possible, but if the league goes in that direction it would need to have a procedure in place for players who are charged criminally with marijuana-related offenses in the states where marijuana continues to be banned.
The issue of NFL players using marijuana is more than a matter of easing up on substance use regulations but is a rather serious matter. To combat the pain that comes from playing one of the roughest sports in America the use of opioids in players has skyrocketed. According to The Washington Post, a culture of prescription drug use and misuse exists, following players from the locker room on into retirement. Coaching staffs are partly to blame, with uneven oversight and a lack of uniform guidelines.
What is worse, some NFL teams either flouted or were ignorant of Drug Enforcement Agency laws governing the dispensing of painkillers. Furthermore, in a study of about 500 players, one in four said he felt pressure from team doctors to take medication, even if he felt uncomfortable with it. This culture of "play at whatever the cost" has led to many retired players continuing to use dangerous painkillers. For example, many retired players administered the controversial painkiller, Toradol, were still using it long after they had left the field.
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In the face of the opioid epidemic, the NFL can no longer avoid the truth about their questionable pain treatment routine. Nor can they also ignore the sport's connection to another epidemic: traumatic brain injury. With evidence coming in about cannabis's possible anti-inflammatory effects, it appears that there are two prongs of which the pro-marijuana side can use to bolster their case.
As stated in ProFootBallTalk, the NFL will have to be very precise about how they approach this issue. If it is a matter of whether or not you are in a legal state, then there is a (likely) possibility that many free agents will turn to teams in states where it’s legal. To avert this possibility, the league may have to settle for removing marijuana from the list of banned recreational drugs.