If I had used marijuana, which shows promise in treating arthritis and bears minimal chance of organ damage, medicinally, the NFL would have fined me and I could have faced prosecution — a risk that an estimated 50 percent of NFL players run each season. (Marijuana is now legal in more than half of states for medicinal purposes but still banned under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the players association.)
Not only are opioids addictive, they can kill you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.
The facts relating to cannabinoids as an alternate are pretty clear: "You can't directly die from taking a cannabinoid, the way tens of thousands of people are directly dying from opioids each year in the U.S.," says Dr. Daniel Clauw, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan.
If you ask me, pushing addictive pain meds on young pro athletes should be criminal.
If you follow the NFL or you're into fantasy football, you've probably noticing a number of big named and role players getting suspended for four games and even entire seasons for "illegal substances." Just this year, the league has fined over 20 players a combined $10 million-plus for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. A majority of these cases involve marijuana, which seems hypocritical given the teams themselves are prescribing the players much more harmful and addictive medications than the ones that they are actually resulting in the fines.
There is no wonder why thousands of former players have joined together to pursue major class action lawsuits against the NFL. This has resulted in Drug Enforcement Agency and Justice Department investigations on how prescription drugs are distributed in NFL facilities. Prior to the start of this football season, Federal Judge William Haskell Alsup denied a motion by the NFL to dismiss the players' lawsuit, which will allow the discovery phase of this trial to begin. When you consider the potential magnitude of this lawsuit, and the current billion-dollar-plus concussion settlement that the league faces, there's no wonder why the typically politically correct owners are considering backtracking their harsh stance on cannabis.
With so many states now legalizing some form of legal marijuana use, the NFL and its conservative owners must face the inevitable. The players' association is beginning to push the league to reevaluate their logic.
"Certainly given some of the medical research out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances we talk a look at," says Players' Union Executive George Atallah.
The league's response to the topic included a statement that it would be open to reconsidering its policy, but the league's medical experts haven't recommended any changes. Let's remember that these same medical experts denied that football caused concussions.
The perception of the league's treatment of players' health can't get any worst following the blockbuster hit movie "Concussion," starring Will Smith. So yes, a grown man can be paid to run full speed into other grown men every day and he has one choice: toxic pain killers and anti-inflammatory meds that have been proven to do massive damage to your liver and other organs. If you choose a natural route like marijuana, you are subject to millions in fines and will likely be suspended or terminated. Seems like a pretty bad deal to me.
This article is in no way a advocating for the misuse or abuse of marijuana as a recreational drug, but an attempt to voice the concerns of some of the great men who have lost their lives and left their families without loving fathers following horrible health issues — everything from head trauma to widespread painkiller abuse.
I'll be the first to admit that marijuana also comes with its own health concerns, which can include breathing problems, increased heart rates and some reports of links to schizophrenia. But when put side by side with harsh painkillers and toxic anti-inflammatory medications, there is no comparison.
Even beyond sports medicine, users report that marijuana has a host of health-related advantages. It has been known to help with pain, multiple sclerosis and Tourette's syndrome.
Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks' Coach Pete Carroll and numerous other key NFL names openly suggested the NFL should consider medicinal marijuana as a legitimate treatment for the injuries its players sustain.
It's well past time for the NFL to get with the program and consider marijuana as an option for the treatment of pain.
Commentary by Jack Brewer, a former NFL safety who played for the Vikings, Giants, Eagles and Cardinals. He is also the founder and CEO of the Brewer Group. He has a master's degree in sports management from the University of Minnesota. He serves as an ambassador for peace and sport for the United States Federation of Middle East Peace at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter@JackBrewerBSI.
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