National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell says he’s open to the idea of permitting medical marijuana for players when allowed by law.
“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,” Goodell told ESPN this month when asked about the issue.
The NFL commissioner became the second prominent leader this year to express unexpected support for at least studying the issue, following a reversal from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said last week he’d tolerate a limited medical marijuana program permitting only 20 hospitals around the state to distribute the drug.
As a unique entity in American business, Goodell’s NFL has taken brutal hits from former players who say their health has been destroyed by concussive hits endemic to the game, a danger they say officials downplayed for decades of growing profit. So, might medical marijuana help current NFL players to “play through the pain?”
The issue gains relevance for players on the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, whose home states Washington and Colorado now allow recreational marijuana.
“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,” Goodell said.
Among many possible health benefits, marijuana has shown promise in scientific study for protecting the brain from damage caused by a concussion, an injury representing perhaps the NFL’s number-one public relations threat. As far as legal liability, the League last year settled a class-action lawsuit for more than $765 million.
Goodell’s stance on medical marijuana reflects a rapid conversion of the American public on the issue, with support for marijuana building substantially in just the past couple of years. A Gallup poll conducted in October shows 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 50 percent in just 2011.
And just last season, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello had declared nothing changed about the League’s policy on marijuana. "The NFL's policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades," Aiello said in November 2012, according to CBS Sports. "Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program."
However, the League’s collective bargaining agreement with players, set for renewal in 2021, only prohibits the use of illegal drugs, leaving the option open to the Broncos and Patriots preparing for the League’s AFC championship game on Sunday at Mile High Stadium in Denver.