Even with marijuana now legal for recreational purposes in two of the 22 states where the NFL has teams, the league declines to reconsider its rule that players can’t use it.
That could change, in time.
At a press conference to announce the first winners of the “Head Health Challenge” aimed at finding innovative techniques for treating and/or preventing brain injuries, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that, if marijuana can be proven to help players recover from concussions, the league could change its position.
“I’m not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” Goodell said, via USA Today. “Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”
In a recent interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, NFL senior V.P. of labor law and policy Adolpho Birch told Andrea Kremer that the league would look at anything that could help its players. An Isreali doctor has found via research on mice that marijuana can help in the recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
Many players already believe that marijuana helps manage pain, and they smoke it even though the league says they can’t. For players not already in the substance-abuse program, there’s no chance of testing positive after the annual test to which every player is subjected during the offseason, in a window that opens (coincidentally) on 4/20.
If the federal government ever changes its position regarding marijuana, the NFL may have no choice but to revise its position. The policy as written prohibits the “illegal use” of marijuana; if it’s ever fully legal in jurisdictions like Washington and Colorado, the league won’t have any way to take action against players who live or work there.