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Does the NFL really care about players smoking pot?

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Ok, so this piece isn’t really Colts-related, at least not directly. Coming off the news that Chris Long smoked marijuana throughout his NFL career because, according to him, he would “not [be] as capable of coping with the stressors of day-to-day NFL life”, I got curious. How did a 11 year vet and #2 overall pick smoke for the duration of his career without getting caught? Well, turns out it’s not that difficult of a task to do.

After retiring from the NFL, the former Eagle was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show for what was supposed to be a routine interview about his decision to retire, and what the future held for him. Long, however, had other plans. He dropped an absolute bomb when he stated that he “enjoyed [his] fair share [of weed] on a regular basis”. However, what really captivated me was when he said that the league was only allowed to test for “street drugs” between April 20th and August 9th. Furthermore, once they test a player within that time period, that player is no longer eligible to be tested again. Meaning that if a player is tested on April 28th, 2019, they can’t be tested again until 4/20-7/09 of 2020.

The NFL also uses a urine test to trace the marijuana in players, not blood tests. This method can only pick up on residue from up to 45 days before the test, compared to the blood test's ability to detect weed from as long as 75 days before the test.


How to get around it?

So, taking this into consideration, all a player like Chris Long would have to do to avoid getting caught is:

  1. Stop smoking around the end of February/start of March
  2. Stay clean until your test
  3. Once you are tested, you can smoke all you want until you have to start the process all over again

Seems simple enough.


Why do people get caught?

So, if it’s so easy to avoid getting caught smoking, why do cases like Josh Gordon’s exist, where an ultra-talented player throws away millions of dollar in salary and sponsorships just to smoke? Well, the reason is that, according to the 2011 CBA, once you test positive once you are placed in a substance abuse program where the NFL is free to test you whenever they want.

  1. A second failed test leads to a 2 game fine.
  2. A third failure is a 4-game fine.
  3. A fourth failure leads to a 4 game suspension.
  4. A fifth failure leads to a 10-game suspension.
  5. Any test that returns positive after that can lead to banishment with the players ability to apply for reinstatement after one year.

Martellus Bennett stated in an interview in 2018 with USA Today that he believed that about “89% of active players” smoked and that he “was surprised every time one of his teammates told [him] that they don’t smoke”. Now, while the exact statistic might not be “89%”, it’s clear that a decent number of active players smoke. It’s impossible to know what percentage of those players fail tests during the 4-5 month window where they can get tested, but those who do are the few who can’t stay off the substance for more than a short period of time. If they can’t stay sober for those few months, who’s going to think that they can stay sober through what may be years until they stop being periodically checked?

If you’re a football player, your body is the source of income for you and your family. You need to take care of it and make sure that it can function not just well, but in a way that is healthy and sustainable years after you retire. Currently, players seem to find themselves in a dilemma of whether to take take pills or to smoke cannabis.

A retired Arian Foster said on Joe Rogan’s podcast back in 2017 that when he got his back surgery in 2014 the doctor prescribed him Percocet, a very potent painkiller that has a high risk of addiction, according to the First DataBank. In fear of becoming hooked to the pill, Foster bought some marijuana in a Los Angeles. I can assure you that Foster isn’t the only player who smokes weed to avoid opioid-based painkillers, specially now that cannabis is legal in some states.


Conclusion

It seems clear that a lot of players are smoking marijuana to deal with the pain and grit that comes with being a professional athlete, and that the NFL is turning a blind eye to it. They have, in a sense, made it very easy for players to avoid getting caught, but at the same time made it obvious that anyone that tests positive will be punished.

In my opinion, the NFL probably realizes that cannabis is no more dangerous than some of the pills that team doctors prescribe. However, there is a certain stigma that surrounds weed, and the NFL most certainly wants to save themselves from the stigma associated with allowing the use marijuana.

As I conclude this article, I want to make it clear that I am in no way supporting the unrestricted use of weed. Like anything in life, marijuana has its positives and negatives, and, while I personally don’t partake in its consumption, I do believe that it will certainly be a talking point for the 2020 CBA and that the players will push hard to have the freedom to smoke as they wish.