Last updated: December 4, 2023
Anyone who has witnessed at least one professional football game has a grasp of the pain involved in the sport. It’s violent. It’s demanding. It’s American.
When the fans have left the stadium and their adoring cheers no longer fill a player’s ears, he is left in the silence to contemplate a lifetime of pain.
Years of fast pivots, being tackled at full speed by players who weigh upwards of 300 lbs, sudden bursts of velocity and the more painful sudden stops all add up to excruciating injuries that rival those of Hollywood’s most insane stuntmen.
According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, the most common football injuries are various knee traumas such as a torn ACL, torn hamstrings and shoulder separations, all of which leave their legacy of aches long after the player has retired. Also high on the list are concussions with their associated nausea and vomiting and severe low back pain from over-training and strain. Very few occupations can offer a competitively gruesome toll of injuries or comparatively painful retirement.
To make matters worse, the National Football League was recently served with a lawsuit by eight retired players who stated that the league was responsible for their addiction to pain medications. According to the retired players, the league provided illegal painkillers to mask the symptoms of their injuries and keep them in the game far past their natural ability to play. The physical toll of these painkillers racks up quickly, adding liver and kidney damage to the already harrowing list of injuries. Former Bears team member Jim McMahon’s addiction was so severe that he took over 100 Percocets a month, a very powerful opiate derived from the same source as morphine and heroin.
As the NFL’s retirees and current players have grown fed up with the endless cycle of pain and pills, some are now turning to a more commonly used and purportedly less addictive medicinal herb to treat their pain—marijuana. Unfortunately, Percocet is legal, but marijuana is not. As most fans know, the league routinely tests its players for drug use, marijuana included, and bans offenders. While the league is lightening up on its severe penalties as of May 2014, and lifting the threshold to test positive for marijuana, some are arguing that players should be using it at much higher medicinal levels, rather than popping a handful of daily pain pills that send them on a downward spiral of addiction and internal organ failure.
Both the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have hinted that they are open to an NFL policy that would allow for use of marijuana for pain control–especially in the 23 states that have already legalized its use, and they are not alone. Fans, outraged by what they see as frivolous suspensions for petty use of a drug considered quasi-legal in some states and flat-out legal in Colorado and Washington are pushing for the policy change as well. They point to arguments like those of NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington who stated in a recent interview that marijuana can help players heal from injuries like concussions faster. There is no scientific evidence to date that marijuana helps damaged tissue heal faster. There is, however, a mountain of evidence to support the fact that marijuana effectively relieves both nausea and pain–both of which are common side effects of a concussion.
Whatever the league eventually decides, public opinion is clear. A Gallup poll last year found that roughly 58% of Americans feel that marijuana should be legal for recreational use. An astounding 85% of Americans feel that marijuana should be made available for medical use, a clear departure from the league’s current policy of drug testing and suspensions.