When To Legalize PED’s And Medical Marijuana In The NFL

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Seems like we can’t go too long without a debate on the use of PED’s and medical marijuana in the NFL (and other sports). They’re not quite the same but, forgive the pun, I want to tackle them both. First up, PED’s. I’ve always been firmly against the use of performance enhancers for the following reasons:

  1. When used to get a competitive advantage.
  2. They can be dangerous if abused and taken over an extended period of time.
  3. When some players use it, it puts pressure on other players to make the same choice to keep up.
  4. It’s against the law and or is cheating.
  5. Bad example and dangerous for kids and teenagers.

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None of that has changed. However, Peyton Manning’s recent “exoneration” from an alleged HGH allegation got me thinking. Let’s pretend for a second he did use HGH. If a guy has four neck surgeries and missed an entire season, and uses some HGH to help heal and recover and get back to his previous established performance level, do we really want to compare that to the ongoing use of a healthy player using it to improve performance beyond his established level?

With or without medical advice there are a LOT of drugs that have side effects and are bad for you. In fact, according to Harvard University center for ethics, prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in America.

If a player has a season ending and or career threatening injury I am okay with him taking PED’s for a limited time, and under a league approved doctor’s supervision. In this limited circumstance:

  1. I do not see the player as getting a competitive advantage.
  2. It would not put undue pressure on other players to use when healthy.
  3. In this use, it wouldn’t be cheating if it was league approved.
  4. And it would be not a bad example to kids for the above reasons.

Marijuana is a little more complicated. I hear the NFL receiving criticism from many analysts on ESPN stating:

  1. Medical marijuana is legal.
  2. It is a hypocrisy for the league to test for marijuana given they make money from alcohol.
  3. It is not a performance enhancer.
  4. Football is such a violent sport, players need it for pain relief.

These arguments are not without merit. For instance, in 2013, what would you guess had more deaths related to it? Marijuana or alcohol? The answer is alcohol. Maybe that is not a surprise after all alcohol is legal. But what if I told you that the number of deaths due to alcohol in 2013 was 18,361 and for marijuana it was only 2,123? That’s a big difference right? Well guess what? I made those numbers up.  They’re worse. Deaths due to alcohol was 29,001 and for marijuana was, wait for it… zero! You can see the chart I pulled this from, here.

However I cannot fault the NFL or any league for keeping marijuana against it’s rules. First of all, until medical marijuana is legal in all states and survives initial appeals of such legality, I do not think the league should legalize it. But let’s assume that day comes.

If an NFL player wants to take marijuana for pain relief, or other approved medicinal use, I think he should be able to appeal for a waiver allowing him to take it in tablet form.

A medicinal reason to take marijuana should not be an excuse to “toke up” or chow down on brownies. Smoking and eating marijuana is associated with its recreational use and this is not what the waiver is providing for.

In order for this waiver to be approved, a league or team approved Dr. would have to:

  • Explain what other pain relievers have been tried and why the marijuana is needed.
  • The Dr. would have to inform the league of the dosage and length of time the player would need to use.
  • The player would need to submit to additional testing to measure the amount of marijuana in his system to ensure he is sticking to the prescribed dose and not abusing it.

Again, medicinal approval should not be a gateway to recreational use.

Yes, the league is hypocritical by looking the other way and profiting from alcohol. However, in this sense they are following the hypocritical lead of the country since the failure of prohibition, but to suggest that because they don’t do anything to prevent the use and abuse of one drug, alcohol, they should not for another is an argument I would expect from a rebellious teenager.

The league’s intention of keeping it illegal, is to protect their assets from themselves. Just like there are clauses in contracts to keep athletes from engaging in activities that increase the odds of injury, like skydiving or other sports.  

There is nothing wrong with this.  Owners invest a lot of money in players and it is not unreasonable for them to take measures to keep them from becoming addicted to a recreational drug that is addictive and can be a DPD, decrease performance drug, and a negative locker room influence.  

An irony here is that the NFL has been very rightly criticized for its handling of the concussion issue, but here they are getting criticized for not letting its players use an addictive drug?

I can just imagine if it was the opposite and the league had a lax policy for marijuana use.  They would be getting criticized for allowing players to do it, or looking the other way, so players can deal with pain and can get on the field and play through it. And with righteous anger they would state now you have these retired players who are addicted and have health problems and what is the league going to do about that?!

Max

ESPN’s First Take Co-Host Max Kellerman thinks the NFL is wrong on Marijuana Testing.

Talking heads love to talk and love to criticize.

So to surmise. Yes on PED’s to assist with recovery from season ending or career threatening injuries only. (I am open to its use for other severe injuries so long as the procedure is serious and legit and not used as a gateway/loophole for rampant use)

Yes to marijuana, if and when it becomes legal in all states where the NFL or a particular league plays, and with stipulations to help ensure it gets used for it’s intended purpose.

How To Save Football From Itself

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There is much debate about the violence/ hitting in football and the rule changes that need to be made to protect the safety of the players from concussions and other injuries.  The disagreement comes in the amount or  kind of changes.  How much do we water down the game with rules to protect the players, at the expense of the game we all know and bet on?  I mean love.

Until now the approach has been to primarily make rule changes such as: making helmet to helmet contact illegal, changing the kickoff yard line, penalizing for hitting a defenseless receiver, and so on.  Those are all fine.

There has been speculation of possibly eliminating the kickoff altogether.  Purists, and people concerned about the integrity of the game or it’s popularity, worry that the future of football is in jeopardy if we make it too soft.  Players know the risks and we should leave it be, or so they say.

The other side laments that the more we learn about concussions and their present and long-term consequences, such as the recent suicide of Junior Seau, the fewer parents will allow their kids to play football in the future.   Further, there will be more people in the general public that are turned off by the sport.

Just this week President Obama weighed in further igniting the partisans.  Arguing about President Obama’s innocent, and recent comments about the safety of football, it’s future, and whether or not he would let a son, if he had one, play, misses the point.

The solution doesn’t rest with rule changes.  That will make the game a little safer, but is largely a band-aid to protect the league from liability.  It is said that the players keep getting bigger, stronger and faster, and that increases the likelihood of injury.  We can’t do much about bigger and stronger, but speed and protection are areas where we can.

For example, before implementing more hitting rule changes, the NFL can slow the game down by banning hard, slick artificial turf.  There should be a minimum safety standard to all surfaces, grass or artificial.  Field design should consider three factors, speed, how hard it is and how fast it drains water.  This standard should be a surface that slows the game down, or at worst simulates natural grass.  If it doesn’t exist now, research it and make it so.  Supposedly, one reason we don’t like steroids is because they create artificial numbers, well artificial turf creates artificial speed.  A softer surface also means less damage from impact and less wear and tear on knees and ankles, etc.

Another way to naturally slow the game down is to require thicker and more protective padding. This could serve two purposes: one, slowing the speed of the game by weight of equipment or limiting flexibility as a result of equipment.  And two, giving better protection to a player when hit.

I’m not sure this one will affect speed, but require players to wear flak jackets.  Quarterbacks often wear these to protect bruised ribs.  Here is an idea, wear them before you suffer a rib injury and you might not get the injury in the first place.

Better and safer helmets.  Baseball has them.  A vast majority of MLB players don’t wear them because they are fashionably undesirable.  If they don’t exist for football, the NFL should invest heavily in improving the technology and safety of helmets and fashion be damned, require players to wear them.

Better equipment and a slower field of play, may mean less rule changes to the actual game and healthier players.  These are areas that deserve as much research and attention as possible because they could not only keep players safer during their career but long after as well.  And then maybe the president will be more comfortable letting his hypothetical son play football.

###### Update 2/1/13 …. Yesterday, it was widely reported that the Baltimore Ravens switched practice fields because the turf at Tulane University was too hard.  Click here. Ravens star Ray Lewis commented that it wasn’t good for the legs especially this time of year.  I support making turf player friendly all season long!