NFL’s medical cannabis rules leave players in pain

by DGO Web Administrator

As the eyes of a nation tuned in to watch ol’ Tom Brady tear his fifth Super Bowl ring right off the Falcons’ fingers (and even more tuned in to see Gaga dive off the roof of NRG Stadium), the rest of the NFL sat home recouping from what can reasonably be referred to as half a year of brutality. Their bodies unwind, relax, making the turn toward the arc of another season of the same treatment, the microcosmic “wars” (complete with military flyovers and other patriotic displays bought and paid for by the Department of Defense) played every Sunday for our amusement.

It’s a tough life for these athletes. For every retired player selected to pull on a gold Hall of Fame blazer during Super Bowl weekend, there are dozens of pros whose dreams fizzle at the end of a string of relatively minor injuries that never get right enough for them to compete effectively at the highest level. Or they see their careers blow out with a knee on a bad cut in the turf. Then there are the thousands – myself included – who never get near the pinnacle of the sport, but, for the rest of their days, carry the reminder that the gridiron is a place where brute force reigns and the cost of doing business is measured in damage to tissue and tendon and bone. (And let’s keep in mind here that, while, yes, some of them do make millions putting their bodies on the line, it is the league owners who take home billions while watching games from the elevated luxury boxes of their publicly-financed coliseums.)

Medical cannabis has shown excellent results in alleviating muscle spasms, pain, post-concussion syndrome, and difficulty sleeping, to name a few. Bruce Smith, former Bills and Redskins great, and one of thousands of plaintiffs in lawsuits against the NFL concerning concussions and the comprehensive cover-up by the league over its long-term effects is quoted in a 2008 interview with the Buffalo News saying, “Not a day goes by that I’m not in pain … I forget a lot of things sometimes.”

He is far from alone dealing with these issues caused by the game he loves. Fellow league alums including Ricky Williams, Jim McMahon, Jake Plummer, and Eugene Monroe have become vocal advocates for the use of cannabis to assist players in recovery. However, though a majority of NFL players reside in states with medical programs, the league has done nothing of note to show that they are in step with the medical recommendations concerning cannabanoids, preferring to continue its traditional path of having team doctors prescribe opiate medications to players looking for relief from the on-field damage caused by years of collisions.

Worse still, Commissioner Roger Goodell and his crew at the league offices made the decision in December to suspend current Bills defensive lineman Seantrell Henderson for 10 games without pay for his use of cannabis to treat Crohn’s disease; Henderson not only lives in New York, a legal medical state, but also had had two-and-a-half feet of his intestines removed due to the effects of his condition.

Football players are far from alone in being denied reasonable medical care involving cannabis. Next week, we will investigate the plight of our military personnel and veterans who are denied access to medicine because of bureaucratic ignorance.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected].


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