NFL’s war on weed is pious league’s biggest sin

The NFL is a fundamentally hypocritical organization. You can see players’ lifespans getting shorter on the field every week. The body isn’t designed for the collisions that make the NFL must-watch TV. You don’t need a medical degree to realize that a 250 lb man using his head as a weapon to knock another man unconscious isn’t conducive to longevity. The NFL’s job is to make money, and if it has to pretend like playing football isn’t inherently dangerous to shield itself from a torrent of litigation, so be it. Such are the times we live in. But what is absolutely indefensible is the league’s prohibition on weed.

As the saying goes, “if it grows in the ground, it’s probably OK.” Pretty sure that Percocet doesn’t grow in the ground but team doctors hand those out like Valentine’s Day candy in elementary school. The league has no problem doling devilishly addictive painkillers out willy-nilly, but God forbid somebody smoke a joint to find relief – both mental and physical – from the rigors of the NFL.

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Ricky Williams (right) retired from the NFL at the height of his powers in 2004 because they wouldn't let him smoke weed. (Image source/Twitter)
Ricky Williams (right) retired from the NFL at the height of his powers in 2004 because they wouldn’t let him smoke weed. In 2002, he was the league’s leading rusher. (Image source/Twitter)

For some arcane reason, the league has an out-dated, Old Testament stance on marijuana; a substance proven to have a litany of beneficial effects. In this regard, the NFL is about as progressive as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a person who – true story – was born when black people weren’t allowed to play in Major League Baseball.

A decade ago, when public consensus on the merits of marijuana had not yet been reached, perhaps the league’s anti-weed stance made sense, business-wise. It’s feasible that parents wouldn’t want their kids watching a league that promoted the use of illegal drugs. But science, and the court of public opinion, has come a long way in the past 10 years.

Colorado made over a billion dollars selling weed in 2016. Washington state will clean up in 2017, as will Oregon, Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and the other states that have had the good sense to legalize and tax weed. Let’s not forget that the past four Super Bowls have been won by teams who play in states where smoking weed is legal.

If Colorado was the first domino to fall, and Washington state the second, California is surely the largest. With a population of 40 million, the state is big enough to be its own country. And not a second-rate, entry-level country like Aruba – but a real country; a major player in the global economy with nuclear submarines and seedy ties to prohibitive regimes in the Middle East.

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It will take the Golden State a year or two to reign in its medical marijuana system and distribute the requisite permits and licenses to growers and retailers, but once the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed, California will get a few billion extra tax dollars per year that it can use at its discretion; to fund schools, to build roads, to promote youth drug awareness.

As the only state boasting four NFL franchises, the league must see California as a bellwether for the country at large. The writing on the wall is there in big, bold letters: people like smoking weed and it’s relatively harmless. The NFL is doing its best to avert its eyes, leaning on the time-tested axiom of “It’s not there if I can’t see it.”

Perhaps the league’s tone-deafness is something entirely more sinister: leverage masquerading as ignorance. For better or worse, the league views its relationship with its players as a zero-sum game. The freedom to smoke weed is obviously something the players want; with the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement due to be renegotiated after the 2020 season, why give up that bargaining chip now? What if that’s what’s gets the players to finally sign off on an 18-game regular season?

The league might be cut-throat but it’s not stupid. Common sense seldom dictates policy when you’re talking about numbers that need three commas. The NFL’s anti-weed stance may have at one time been congruent with the country’s collective moral compass but now, it’s nothing more than leverage to extract more value out of players when the CBA expires in 2020.