NFL, Union Cooperating On Study Of Marijuana Benefits For Players
The NFL and NFLPA have agreed for the first time to "cooperate in studying the potential use of marijuana as a pain management tool for players, representing a possible shift in the league’s approach to an issue on which several players have been outspoken," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The study will originate from "two new medical committees formed by the league and union that will provide recommendations." It also will include a "review of teams’ policies and practices for the use of prescription medication by players." In recent years, some players have "expressed frustration over the continued punishment" of players who test positive for marijuana. The committees will begin their work "as soon as possible." Any major policy changes "still would have to be made through the traditional channels of the collective bargaining process between the NFL and NFLPA or via their annual negotiations over their jointly administered drug policies." One committee is on "pain management, the other on mental health and wellness." Both sides said that the pain management committee is "not solely focused on marijuana." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that the league would "consider allowing players to use marijuana for pain management if it is established as valid by medical and scientific experts" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/21). The AP's Barry Wilner noted each NFL club "must appoint and pay for a pain management specialist before next season." All 32 teams now also "must retain by the start of training camp a behavioral health team clinician focused on supporting players' emotional and mental health and well-being" (AP, 5/20).
MAKING A DIFFERENCE? SI.com's Albert Breer noted one question that arises out of the announcement is "whether or not this will lead to the league eliminating its policy on not allowing players to smoke marijuana," which players could use as a "substitute for addictive and potentially dangerous pain-killers." There has "always been an assumption out there that if the league does stop testing for it, it’ll want something in return from the players." It remains to be seen if the owners "soften their stance on that" (SI.com, 5/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly notes NFL free agent WR Brandon Marshall has "spent the past decade serving as an advocate for mental health since he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder" in '11. Marshall said the changes and policies announced by the league and union are a "start, but not the finish line." He said, "This is a call to action to take the case of our minds as serious as they do our bodies. Hopefully they don’t put the clinicians in the back of the building, next to the janitor’s closet" (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 5/21).