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Twenty-six substance abuse suspensions covering a total of 145 games. That’s what the NFL looks like in just 2017 (so far). The NFL’s substance abuse policy has claimed a lot of player’s careers, and as an avid sports fan, nothing makes me angrier than watching players throw their careers away.
With all the missed games and missed paychecks, substance abuse—in particular, marijuana—doesn’t seem to be going away. If anything, the opposition to the policy has grown in ferocity. With 28 states having some form of legal marijuana, the NFL faces a potentially problematic question:
Should marijuana be accessible under NFL rules?
NFL players have a legitimate case for the use of legalized marijuana. Marijuana’s pain management properties can help players get through the physically grueling NFL schedule. Players want to play, and many will do almost anything to stay on the field, fighting through their aches and pains.
But if the NFL ever green lights marijuana, the league will face this major dilemma: some teams are located in states that do not allow any use of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise.
How can these teams be held to a different standard than teams from a state like California, where even recreational use is legal? And if there’s an advantage to be had from marijuana use, how will the inconsistencies between states’ legalization affect the product on the field?
Let’s assume that marijuana has been excluded from the NFL’s drug ban. How might that affect competition in the upcoming 2017 season? Take a team like the Colts, who play in Indianapolis where marijuana is illegal. Their first regular season game of 2017 is against the Los Angeles Rams.
Prior to the game in Los Angeles, where marijuana use is legal, Rams players would have the benefit of pain management that Colts’ players wouldn’t have. In this scenario, the game’s outcome could easily be affected by the Rams’ pain-management advantage.
Based off that, what should the NFL do? My recommendation to the NFL is to wait. Maintaining its marijuana ban is a safe course of action due to the number of teams that play in anti-marijuana states. However, as more and more states legalize marijuana, the NFL’s quandary of how to handle their own policies will cause strife between the NFL, its fans and its players. From my point of view, as long as legalization continues to progress, the NFL will have little choice but to follow suit.