While smoking a joint and streaming live on Instagram Thursday night, David Irving, defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, announced that he is quitting his job with the National Football League (NFL).
“Basically, guys, I quit. I know they’re talking about a suspension and all this other nonsense. I’m out of there. I’m not doing this sh** no more,” Irving said during the video stream on Instagram Live.
Irving completed the live stream in response to being suspended indefinitely by the Cowboys after his urine tested positive for the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolite again. This is the third time he has been suspended in four years for failing to abide by the league’s outdated drug policy.
“Everyone questions my commitment to football,” he said. “But let’s it straight…I love football…However, I don’t love the NFL. The NFL isn’t football.”
Like many others, Irving has expressed many times that he believes NFL players should be permitted to medicate and treat injuries with cannabis instead of opioids if they choose. He supports the #plantsoverpills movement with the hashtag proudly displayed at the top of his Instagram page. He also repeated the statement multiple times during the nearly 20 minute Instagram Live video stream.
One thing was made clear during the stream: Irving thinks it’s bullsh**.
“We got this opioid thing going on and I’m prescribed all that bullsh**, and I just think it’s bullsh** that we’ve got to deal with that policy,” he said during the Instagram Live stream. “Everyone thinks it’s about smoking weed. It’s not about smoking weed. It’s much bigger than that. Much, much bigger. Hell, I have concussions every day. I get to see around the office how that f—s your head up and I feel it.”
“How many NBA players you see getting in trouble about this? How many coaches you see get in trouble about this? How many baseball players get in trouble? How many UFC players getting in trouble? How many actors? Not many, but you do see us football players,” Irving said.
While some are saying that Irving is quitting the NFL solely because of it’s cannabis policy, he insists that is not the only reason.
“If I’m going to be addicted to something, I’d rather it be marijuana, which is medical,” Irving continued. “I do not consider it a drug, rather than the Xanax bars or the hydro[codone] or the Seroquel and all that crazy sh** that they feed you. Like I said, it ain’t about smoking weed.”
While his point is valid and worth noting, some criticize the way Irving went about delivering the message. It is possible that it could have been more well received by a larger audience if he had expressed his views in a different manner.
Irving has joined the ranks of so many other NFL players, both active and retired, who have spoken out in support of using cannabis to treat symptoms caused by injuries sustained during games, like concussions, muscle tears, and broken bones.
NFL players can only be drug tested from April through August. If a player does not fail his drug test the first time, it will be another year before he can be tested again. This is how some players are able to medicate with cannabis during the season, assuming they are able to pass the drug test the first time.
At only 25 years old, Irving was a promising player in the NFL when he was able to stay on the field. He made four tackles and one sack in the only two games he played for the Cowboys during the most recent season. The season before that, Irving sacked the quarterback seven times in eight games. He was about to become a free agent, but apparently he no longer has any interest in exploring his options with the NFL.
What will Irving do next if he isn’t going to play football? He says he has big plans for the future, and that they will be revealed soon enough. Perhaps Irving will follow in the footsteps of other ex-professional-athletes like Tiki Barber and Ricky Williams by launching his own cannabis brand or investing in an existing cannabis business.
In drafting a new policy proposal for cannabis, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is seeking input from families and children of the players, which is part of a larger effort to convince the NFL to revise its policies on substances-of-abuse.
George Atallah, union executive for the NFPLA, said that players are choosing cannabis instead of opioid painkillers to manage injuries and pain, out of concern for their potential for abuse and side effects. While players may be testing positive for cannabis, it is not due to recreational use.
“We believe that is the result of players trying to deal with managing pain on their own as opposed to going through a medical professional,”
Atallah recently said in an interview.
“If that’s the case, we need to really take a hard look at what’s causing them to self-medicate, how we can take better care of players in the locker room and how we can incorporate frankly all of the families of players into this solution.”
“The disciplinary aspect of it is one thing. But what we’re really trying to focus on is helping players get better without having to resort to things like Toradol and heavy opioids,” Atallah continued.
A federal lawsuit filed by former NFL players questions the use of opioids and how much they were prescribed. Last month, the majority of the lawsuit was dismissed after the NFL claimed they did nothing wrong.
Cannabis has a proven track record for treating pain, and doing so without the high potential for abuse and long-term side effects that opioid painkillers possess. Despite mounting evidence that it may be a viable alternative to opioids, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is as committed as ever to not considering cannabis as an alternative.
“To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players,” Goodell said in an April interview.
“If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. Medical marijuana is something that is evolving.”
Goodell also suggested that smoke inhalation would be another reason to disregard cannabis, despite the league having no policy on cigarette use.
“Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say,” Goodell said.
“It does have an addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. All of those things have to be considered. It’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. We really want to help our players in that circumstance, but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”
In 2014, the NFL and NFLPA collaborated on a revised substances-of-abuse policy that would require four positives test for cannabis before a four-game suspension was implemented. They also reduced the fines associated with a positive test and increased the threshold that would lead to a positive cannabis result.
But Atallah said the NFLPA wants even more latitude for its athletes. “Players don’t need to be losing game checks or any money in particular getting suspended for marijuana use,” he said.
A 2016 investigation by the New York Times revealed the NFL’s role in inaccurate research about concussions, which included the withholding of over 100 concussion cases that would have significantly changed the conclusions of the research, which was concussions do not cause long term brain damage. The NFL shaped much of their policies covering the health of players on the flawed research.
If you’ve been to a professional sporting event in the last century or so there is a likely chance that you’ve also encountered a beer-based, hot dog chunked vomit spewing “fan” acting like a jerk. It’s to be expected and unavoidable. There is nothing to be done except pray that a loudmouth doesn’t invade your section and ruin the event. Good luck with that.
A culture that romanticizes knocking back a few cold ones and better living through chemistry while demonizing the cannabis plant is hard to take seriously. Sportscasters, talk-radio hosts, Internet personalities and every other schmo with an opinion can’t help but drop into a Jeff Spicolli impersonation when commenting on some athlete who has been suspended after providing urine with an inappropriate level of THC metabolites as set forth by a collective bargaining agreement. It’s predictable and unimaginative.
The crop of on-air talent is getting hotter, younger and more liberal by the hour but their thoughts are stagnated. Participation trophies still on display at their parents’ homes have encouraged their voices to be loud and opinionated but stifled critical thinking and analysis. Pandering to a crowd is one thing but being uninformed removes credibility.
Unsurprisingly, the four major American sports leagues (Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and National Football League) wholeheartedly support lucrative marketing deals with official beer sponsors while imposing harsh penalties on players for using cannabis. The institutional view that ganja has no place in sports is supported not by fact but rather draconian principles, endorsement dollars and television broadcasting rights.
The NFL and its leadership is particularly dense and grossly incompetent when it comes to the matter of marijuana policy. The same rich white ownership and management of the league that deny the impact of concussions and force feed opiates to their employees making sure they can go to work on Sunday’s earnestly believe that a player who kills a pedestrian while white girl wasted deserves a lesser suspension than a player that uses cannabis.
Let that sink in.
You can kill somebody and spend 30 days behind bars then only get suspended for one year then be welcomed back to work like nothing happened but if a player smokes weed on the regular it’s possible they won’t be allowed to play for three years. Players punished for cannabis consumption have drawn stiffer penalties and more residual pushback than those involved in sexual assault accusations, domestic violence cases, child abuse scandals and dogfighting rings. These are troubling precedents being set.
There is no shortage of former professional athletes speaking out on the benefits of cannabis. Eugene Monroe, Kyle Turley and Ricky Williams all former NFL players have been making the rounds on the cannabis conference circuit lately while WWE Hall of Famer Charles Wright aka Papa Shango aka The GodFather floods his Instagram with dab videos advocating the benefits of cannabis. Stephen Jackson smoked herb pregame before lacing them against Lebron, Dirk and the Black Mamba and averaged 15 points per game over the course of his career. Even a couple of the rich white owners of NFL franchises are moving towards a more reasonable approach for dealing with cannabis use.
For fans there is little recourse to take against the slights perpetuated and enforced by the suits that enjoy our hard earned dollars—which pay salaries, build stadiums and line the pockets of owners and strategic partners. Sticking it to them in little ways is all we can hope for. Every dab taken in a stadium bathroom and or joint roasted in the upper decks is a small victory on the way to acceptance.
Several former NFL players recently toured a cannabis facility specializing in cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis known for it’s anti inflammatory and calming effects. As part of the Denver Broncos Alumni Association, they are learning more about how CBD can ease the multiple health conditions that plague them in their retirement.
“Every day, I wake up in pain, from my ankles to my neck,” said Ebenezer Ekuban, a former defensive end who played for nine seasons. “It’s part of the territory. I know what I signed up for.”
The focus of the trip was to learn more about cannabidiol (CBD). Some data suggests that the cannabinoid can help with anxiety, pain, nausea and depression, and the federal government holds a patent on its neuroprotective properties. Newer studies have shown its effectiveness on treating inflammatory conditions.
The real effects of an NFL career have only recently gained some transparency. For decades, medical professionals have been treating pain from physical trauma with prescription drugs, which can include opioid painkillers, NSAID pain relievers and muscle relaxers. The mental demands of professional football can also call for anti-anxiety medications.
Unfortunately, these injuries are not temporary, and retired NFL athletes continue to take these medications years after their career has ended. Opioid painkillers were mainly developed for temporary pain, but these athletes require long-term treatment. A published study found the rate that NFL players consume opioids is four times what the rest of the population consumes. Both opioid painkillers and NSAIDs can cause kidney damage over time, but cannabis could be an alternative to these medications.
“This pain is never going away. My body is damaged,” said Eugene Monroe, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. “Managing it with pills was slowly killing me. Now I’m able to function and be extremely efficient by figuring out how to use different formulations of cannabis.”
Monroe was released from his contract three weeks after he openly admitted to using cannabis to treat his injuries. Since then, he has become one of the most vocal proponents of medical marijuana within the NFL community.
Players have had a difficult time convincing owners and NFL officials that cannabis is a safe and effective alternative treatment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has openly expressed his skepticism of marijuana as medication.
“To date, [NFL medical advisors] haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players,” Goodell said. “If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that.”
Sue Sisley, a doctor who serves on the advisory board for the Korey Stringer Institute, suggested that the health and safety of the players may not be best served through prescription drugs.
“For instance, these players obviously receive mega-doses of opioids easily from their trainers and team docs. But when they want to seek out what they believe is a safer, less toxic alternative like cannabis, they’re fined and sanctioned.”
Monroe has experienced first hand the benefits of cannabis, and knows the science could support a change in NFL policy. “I would hope that the NFL stands by what it says it stands for — player health and safety, first and foremost,” said Monroe. “…there’s enough info out there right now for the NFL to make a smart decision.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was back in the news, regarding medical marijuana, on Friday’s ESPN radio edition of Mike and Mike. He continued to uphold the NFL’s ban on the use of cannabis by its players to treat pain and traumatic brain injuries, stating that the NFL’s independent medical advisors “to date,” have yet to recommend marijuana as a legitimate medical tool.
However, as the interview shows, Commissioner Goodell does not appear to be up-to-date on either the latest research regarding cannabis use for pain management and traumatic brain injuries or the way regular medical users consume cannabis when he states:
“Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term.”
Scientists would disagree with his assessment of cannabis use.
A recent 2014 study by researchers at UCLA focused on the outcomes of traumatic brain injuries after “several studies had demonstrated neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids.” The study concludes that “a positive THC screen is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining TBI.” It is unfortunate that the NFL Commission is seemingly unaware of these protective effects, since “new research on the brains of deceased former football players found high rates of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a degenerative disease believed to stem from repetitive brain injury.”
Additionally, a recent study regarding the uses of “Sativex®, a cannabis derived oromucosal spray containing equal proportions of THC (partial CB1 receptor agonist ) and cannabidiol (CBD, a non-euphoriant, anti-inflammatory analgesic with CB1 receptor antagonist and endocannabinoid modulating effects) was approved in Canada in 2005 for treatment of central neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis, and in 2007 for intractable cancer pain. Numerous randomized clinical trials have demonstrated safety and efficacy for Sativex in central and peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer pain. . . treatment of pain shows great promise.”
Effective and safe pain management is an issue the NFL must face head-on as it currently being sued by the NFL Players Association. The suit, representing over 1,800 players, alleges the unfettered and illegal administration and handling of “powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories each season.” The opioid based painkillers the NFL team doctors prescribe are known to be highly addictive which doesn’t seem to concern Commissioner Goodell as much as the slight potential cannabis has for addiction. A recent study “asked more than 8,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64 about their use of marijuana and other drugs.” The researchers concluded that, “although marijuana may be addictive for some, 91 percent of those who try it do not get hooked. Further, marijuana is less addictive than many other legal and illegal drugs.”
Perhaps Commissioner Goodell should visit a medical marijuana dispensary to investigate all the products available to cannabis users that do not involve smoking. The reality is that most medical marijuana patients prefer the reliability in dosing and discreet packing that comes from edibles, teas, tinctures, concentrates like oils, vape cartridges, suppositories, topical lotions and creams, trans-dermal patches and capsules. Yes, the harmful effects of smoking are not up for debate, but to use one method of ingestion as blanket statement against cannabis use is disingenuous and uniformed.
In his ESPN radio interview, Commissioner Goodell did leave room for an eventual shift in the NFL’s stance, stating “medical marijuana is something that is evolving, and that’s something that at some point the medical advisers may come to us and say, ‘This is something you should consider.'” ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, well-known for his catch phrase, “stay off the weeed,” recently shifted his position on cannabis use in the NFL,
“I must admit that I have been pushed somewhat in a different direction by non athletes who have sworn by it not just for medicinal uses but preventive uses. . . It might be time to re-think things. . . At this point, what choice do we have.”
Perhaps Commissioner Goodell will start listening to his players experiences with medical marijuana and make a shift too.