On the surface, the news that the NFL has offered to collaborate with the NFLPA in its effort to study whether marijuana can be used as a pain management tools suggests that the league finally has decided to soften its stance that marijuana is addictive, unhealthy, illegal. But there’s always more going on than meets the eye.
The NFL had previously been clinging to its strong stance against marijuana, presumably due to the realities of collective bargaining. The league and the union agreed decades ago that marijuana would be prohibited for all purposes, and the league seemed to be inclined to change that only if the NFLPA would be making an equivalent concession.
But the union likely will never make a concession in this regard, because the current rules allow players who aren’t already in the program to avoid positive tests, if they’re smart. So the NFLPA wisely has been persistently couching the issue as a matter of player health and safety, forcing the league either to follow suit or risk being perceived as not caring about player health and safety.
Coincidentally (or not), the league finally has adopted the union’s perspective, on the heels of last week’s CTE study.
This hardly means that the league will make wholesale changes to its substance-abuse policy, or that the league will agree with any NFLPA findings regarding the benefits of smoking marijuana. Eventually, the league’s position could be, “We explored it, and we decided that it’s not something that will promote player health and safety.”
But that’s a problem for another day. For now, the NFL has taken the first step toward abandoning the collective bargaining façade and acknowledging that the best interests of the game compel at a minimum consideration of any and all mechanisms for promoting and enhancing the health and safety of the men who play it.