As more US states move to consider marijuana legalization, the country’s most popular sports league is indicating it may one day allow its players to light up.
Speaking to ESPN, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested the sport’s ban on medical marijuana could be lifted in the future if the practice has already been legalized in a player’s state.
"I don't know what's going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries, but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine," he said.
Although multiple teams play in states where medical marijuana is legal – not to mention that Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug outright – use of the substance remains prohibited under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. The 10-year agreement isn’t set to expire until 2021, leaving no opportunity for players to renegotiate the policy in the short term.
As CBS News noted, Goodell’s words are the first time the NFL has commented on marijuana use since Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives legalizing the drug back in 2012.
"The NFL's policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades," league spokesman Greg Aiello said at the time. "Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program."
Still, the collective bargaining agreement’s content is not as black and white as the NFL may believe. According to Pro Football Talk, the CBA only bans the “illegal use” of marijuana, meaning a potential gray area exists concerning situations and states where legal/medical marijuana is permitted.
Complicating the situation is that many NFL players suffer from significant pain borne from concussions and brain trauma, the symptoms of which could be eased by marijuana.
“Medical marijuana is recommended by doctors for headaches, light-sensitivity, sleeplessness and loss of appetite—all of which happen to be symptoms associated with concussions,” the Nation noted on its blog in 2012. “The idea that the league would deny a player their legal pain relief of choice seems barbaric.”
Echoing this sentiment was ESPN’s Howard Bryant, who argued in December the time has come for the NFL to become the first major sports league to condone the drug’s use as a pain reliever.
“This is a league in which the locker room culture still demands that athletes play through [the pain],” Bryant wrote. “And given that marijuana is a legitimate pain reliever -- especially for the migraines that can be a byproduct of head trauma -- and is far less dangerous and potentially addictive than, say, OxyContin, it is almost immoral to deny players the right to use it.”