The NFL and the NFLPA recently announced the formation of two committees to help support players’ health and wellness. The two committees will also work together to study marijuana use as a way for players to manage pain, which could bring about a shift in the league’s longstanding stance against the drug. On this week’s episode of the The MMQB NFL Podcast, Albert Breer, Jenny Vrentas and Conor Orr discuss the best way for the NFL to move forward.
(Listen to the latest The MMQB NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Breer: The NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statementannouncing the inclusion of both the pain management specialist and Behavioral Health Team clinician. This seems to have softened their stance on marijuana as a pain-relieving agent or at least served as an opening of their minds as troubles with opioid painkillers mount. What’s next for WEED in the NFL?
Vrentas: Interesting that weed’s in all capital letters [in our notes]. You’re very enthusiastic about the WEED. What’s next for WEED in the NFL? Are you texting a lot of people that auto-corrects to WEED? A lot of questions here.
Breer: I felt this way for a long time: I think the NFL should have quietly stopped testing for marijuana a while ago. To me it’s ... I don't think there’s any winner when you bust guys. I don’t think the public really cares if these guys are smoking. Obviously you’re hurting the player, you’re hurting their teams. I mean I don’t think anybody wins. So I think the only question left is is the NFL going to actively ask for something back or they’re going to try to turn this into a chip and say, “Oh, well, if you give us X then we’ll give you legalized marijuana in the NFL.”
Orr: I read up a little bit on the NHL policy recently because a lot of people are saying maybe they’ll just do what the NHL does. It kind of hits on both of your points. It gives them an ability to quietly, at least, if you don’t want to stop testing for it, like the NHL keeps that information. And if a guy keeps coming up on these tests they say, “Hey, we got people here if you need people, and if not just you know don’t let it affect your work. Don’t let it affect your life.” And I think that that’s probably the way to do it. I mean obviously more harmful drugs need to be addressed by teams especially if they’re in that opiate family. There’s a health risk there.
Breer That to me is the big thing here. If this is preventing players from using dangerous painkillers, why wouldn’t everybody want that? Even if we can’t prove that marijuana is effective in that way, even if that’s not proven and I’m not sure it has been proven that it’s actually an effective painkiller. But even if that’s not actually proven if this is preventing a player from using the painkillers then that’s a win, right? I would think that that would be a win.
Orr It’s a guaranteed win. And the only detractors that I’ve seen from any policy like this are, well, all the players are going to claim that they’re in pain or all the players are just going to do it now. I mean, some recently retired NFL players have estimated that up to 80% of the league uses it now. So what’s the issue?
Vrentas: It’s the next step toward essentially a rule change. The question is how long that will take?
Breer: I think this is important to note here too. I’m going to count the teams: the Seahawks, Raiders, Niners, Chargers, Rams, Lions and Patriots and Broncos. That's eight teams are playing in states where it is fully legal. O.K., so that’s eight of the 32 teams, 25%.
Vrentas: One quarter of the league, some difficult math.
Breer: That’s good fast math Jenny, better than me. I think that’s a factor too, so many of these teams are now playing in places where it's fully legal.
Orr: My only thing, and Jenny and I were talking about this before the show, is that it’s great to make this announcement, especially ahead of CBA negotiations, and it kind of shows good faith especially with the inclusion of a behavioral health person and a pain management person. However their inclusion into the organization is another matter. Will their opinions be taken seriously? Because it’s nice to say that we have all this stuff, and this goes back to anything that the NFL has kind of implemented in an emergency situation since Goodell’s taken over, but how much of it has actually taken part of the normal routine part of the cycle?
Breer: Right. And is it an active effort to fix the problem or is it a way of washing your hands of it? Or are they actively making sure these people are empowered within the organizations. It’s similar to concussions. Like, you had like the concussion spotter and everything out. And are the teams really working with these people, or are they seeing them as a necessary evil working around them?
Vrentas I think it’s a good step. I mean you have to see how the implementation works and track that, but it’s something that makes a lot of sense. And as you said Conor it shows a willingness for the league and the union to be working together sort of towards goals that make sense for both sides.
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