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:
- When used to get a competitive advantage.
- They can be dangerous if abused and taken over an extended period of time.
- When some players use it, it puts pressure on other players to make the same choice to keep up.
- It’s against the law and or is cheating.
- Bad example and dangerous for kids and teenagers.
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:
- I do not see the player as getting a competitive advantage.
- It would not put undue pressure on other players to use when healthy.
- In this use, it wouldn’t be cheating if it was league approved.
- 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:
- Medical marijuana is legal.
- It is a hypocrisy for the league to test for marijuana given they make money from alcohol.
- It is not a performance enhancer.
- 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?!
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.