Recently retired NFL defensive end Chris Long recently created a stir by acknowledging to Dan Patrick that (Egads!) Long smoked marijuana during his playing career.
Long hopes that his candor regarding marijuana use will help remove the lingering stigma regarding a substance that gradually is gaining legitimacy in a growing majority of American states.
“The lead was not that I smoked marijuana,” Long tells ESPN.com. “The lead was that I talked about trying to destigmatize it. And hopefully the NFL will hear some of their players talk — former or current, if you have the balls — to say, ‘Something needs to change.'”
Current players need to tread lightly when it comes to acknowledging marijuana use, because even without a positive test a public or private admission of marijuana use land a player in the drug-testing program. But there’s nothing wrong with players standing up and saying that there should be no impediment to doing what people in most states can do for medicinal reasons and in more and more states for recreational purposes.
“I think Roger [Goodell] is a guy who’s trying to get out in front of things and hopefully this is no exception,” Long said. “We’re dealing with a generational stigma, so you’re used to your fans being old-guard people who bought into that stigma. I know some people struggle with it because marijuana, all the stereotypes are, ‘Lazy, deviant people only smoke marijuana.’ Well, if NFL players who are active in their community, are hard-working, they go absolutely nuts on Sunday and they play the game with violence and energy for three hours, that kind of challenges your stereotype. And it challenges the stereotype of football.”
The league’s current prohibition comes with a largely toothless once-per-year testing protocol that allows players to easily navigate the ban, if they can stop smoking long enough before the test to pass it.
“I think at the end of the day, I would hope that they would consider lifting that kind of arbitrary ban,” Long said. “You’ve got one test a year; if you get tested more than that it’s because you failed the test.”
The league has resisted removing the ban because it constitutes a chip for collective bargaining. By delegating to question to medical professionals, perhaps the league is willing to not secure a concession before relinquishing the current rule.
Long believes marijuana use should be permitted regardless of medical necessity.
“Some guys want to get high,” Long said. “And what’s worse? Downing a six-pack of beer or smoking a joint?”
Long is right. And here’s hoping he keeps talking and writing about it. And that he inspires others connected to the sport to do the same. If enough voices join the chorus, it will make change inevitable — and it will make it easier for that stigma to evaporate.