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.