Cannathlete: The Modern Disposition of Weed in Sport
Athletes and Cannabis. Throughout the years, reading these two words together in a sentence normally meant you’re reading up on the latest sports PR disaster (think Michael Phelps, Ricky Williams 1-year NFL suspension, Ross Rebagliati’s gold medal scandal, to name a few). Throughout the entire modern era of sport, it has been bad for business to get wrapped up in a pot scandal. One leaked photo of a pro athlete enjoying some of the ‘devil’s lettuce’ would be enough to spark an avalanche of news stories, public attacks, and speculation about “off the field problems”. The stigma around marijuana in sports is well-known and well-documented. But with the boom of legalization across the globe, mixed with the surge of new information regarding the benefits of using cannabis - times are changing.
Not only has the stigma caused needless damage to the careers of athletes who virtually did no harm to themselves or others, society’s attachment to prohibition has also ignored the benefits of incorporating cannabis into an active lifestyle with respect to pain management, curbing inflammation as well as recreational relaxation. Leagues like the NFL, NBA, and UFC all like to dish out harsh fines for players/fighters who get burnt on a pot test, but these outdated penalties are in line with an outdated prohibition on a natural compound. A plant for which the medicinal and therapeutic effects are seemingly boundless and have barely been studied until just recently. Probably the most glaring example of harsh punishment is the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s 5-year ban for fighter Nick Diaz’s 2015 pot test. Diaz was also assessed a fine at that time of $165,000. The decision has since been lessened to 18-months following a massive public outcry that included a 100,000 signature petition. A petition that even demanded a response from the White House. Not only do the governing bodies in sport have archaic policies of punishment, these outdated policies are also totally out of touch with the countless athletes who enjoy cannabis on a regular basis - both recreationally and therapeutically.
UFC fighter Nick Diaz was one of the first athletes to be at the forefront of the pot issue. Facing a 5-year ban head-on for a failed 2015 pot test. Photo via http://cannabiscafe.biz/
While the official numbers might be foggy, according to the athletes themselves, a large fraction players of several different leagues and associations are all using cannabis. UFC top-5 middleweight Kelvin Gastelum estimated “90% of fighters use marijuana”. Ex-NHLer Riley Cote: half. And an anonymous survey in the NFL found a staggering 94% of players asked admitted to smoking marijuana for both recreational and medicinal reasons. Not only is there a strong connection with athletes in explosive sports, but weed has also become a part of the culture in many endurance sports as well. Prolific ultramarathoner Avery Collins credits cannabis for helping him find his groove during long training runs. Collins also turns to cannabis to take the edge off the insane amount of inflammation after running punishing 100-mile races over the rough and rocky terrain.
Not only is cannabis so intertwined with the athletic lifestyle, both former and current athletes are taking a stand to have cannabis be an accepted part of their lifestyle. NHLer Riley Cote teamed up with former NFL players Nate Jackson and Eben Britton to create Athletes for Care, an athlete-advocacy group intent on smashing the stigma of cannabis in sport in addition to using cannabis as a pain reliever to combat the opioid epidemic. Former left tackle Eugene Monroe is another football player to devote his new life’s work to tackling cannabis acceptance in the NFL. Monroe retired from football at the age of 29, citing concerns for his long-term health as well as his unwillingness to use prescription drugs for pain. He is also known as the first active NFL player to challenge the league’s policy on cannabis. Monroe is now a full-time marijuana advocate, calling on the NFL to fund research on the benefits of cannabis for all-natural pain management as well as CBD to treat concussions. Monroe has also cited the dangerous potential of prescription drugs in his pro-cannabis stance.
“For too long, I’ve watched my teammates and good friends battle with opioid addiction and leave the game with a long road still ahead; it’s time to make a change.” -Former NFL tackle Eugene Monroe. Photo via azcapitoltimes.com
With the overwhelming evidence of players using cannabis, coupled with the anecdotal and scientific evidence pointing to the benefits, leagues and governing bodies are beginning to listen to a little bit. The World Anti Doping Association (WADA) announced in October 2017 that CBD would no longer be included on their “banned list”. This is a huge development for athletes using cannabis as WADA sets the standard for Olympic doping guidelines as well as the UFC. The forever old-school NFL has also finally caved to overwhelming pressure, recently telling the players association (NFLPA) they’d be willing to fund a study on using cannabis for pain management. These groundbreaking developments at the intersection of Weed and Sport would not be possible without the ever-increasing acceptance of cannabis, both in the science community and in the public eye. More importantly, this is a testament to the courageous efforts of all the Eugene Monroe’s, Riley Cotes and Nate Jackson’s in the world of sport willing to stand up against the stigma and put their own public image on the line to push for progress. Perhaps nobody could sum it up better than 7-time NBA champion, former player and coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr:
“...to me, it's only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues, because the education will overwhelm the perception."via Bleacher Report
For the sake of athletes everywhere, let’s hope that it does.