Heading into the 2016 season, three of the NFL’s most talented athletes will miss significant time for failing the league’s antiquated drug test. Le’Veon Bell and Josh Gordon will miss the first quarter of the season, and Martavis Bryant will miss the entire season, all for marijuana consumption.
The NFL has little to say on moral standards
Suspending players for consuming weed isn’t beneficial for any party in the arrangement. The team suffers, the NFL gets lower ratings, and fans don’t get to see their favorite player on the field. The only defense of the NFL’s drug and suspension policy is an argument of moral standards.
Anyone who’s followed the NFL in recent years knows the morality of the league is questionable at best. The league has been caught hiding information and ignoring research in terms of concussions and their long term effects on players. Furthermore, the league is well aware of all the opiate abuse that takes place in the league, as Calvin Johnson just discussed in a recent interview, telling E:60 that painkillers were always available, and even encouraged, on the sideline.
The pain involved in the NFL is unique
The reason the NFL turns a blind eye to opiate use is because it understands the pain experienced on the football field, and it wants its stars to be able to play through it. Despite the addictive qualities of opioids and the epidemic of overdoses we’re seeing throughout the country, opiates don’t have the negative stigma, and thus the NFL can allow consumption without having to worry about their reputation.
Marijuana, on the other hand, isn’t physically addictive and won’t cause overdose. Players who are getting banged up day in and day out on the football field need something to numb the pain, and we should be encouraging substance use that’s both non addictive and non-lethal. Furthermore, marijuana isn’t in any way performance enhancing, so players using takes nothing away from the integrity of the game.
But what about the kids?
A discussion over NFL marijuana usually devolves into defenders of the league’s policy using a slippery slope argument. If the NFL allows its players to smoke pot, young football players who look up to them will think pot use is okay, the argument goes. That’s a bad argument for two reasons.
First, the NFL isn’t made for children. It’s a violent sport that’s meant to be watched by adults. We don’t take Quentin Tarantino moves off of television because kids could stumble across them, we rely on parents to legislate their child’s viewing habits. Second, there’s no publicity involved with not suspending somebody for something. If you simply stop adding marijuana detection to your drug tests, the public doesn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Children won’t think about pro athletes using marijuana if it never makes the news.
Whether racist or just draconian, marijuana drug tests have got to go
Some have accused the NFL and NBA’s marijuana testing of being a racist program, be it implicit or explicit, because the NBA and NFL are majority black sports. The other two major American professional sports, the NHL and MLB, which are not majority black, don’t test their athletes for marijuana.
Racism is difficult to prove in this case, but we do know is that rules against NFL players consuming marijuana are ridiculous. Football is an extremely physical sport in which players are constantly dealing with concussions, headaches, sprains, and twists. In addition, the high strung nature of football underscores the need for player to be able to relax and calm down after games.
The idea that a league that hid evidence on concussions from its players for years while allowing them to take opiates and cortisone shots on the sidelines to deal with pain and get back out on the field would disallow marijuana use is unthinkable. It’s time for the league to remove its ban.