Former Bronco: NFL Needs Weed

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Nate Jackson, former Denver Broncos tight-end and author, aired a grievance last week with the National Football League that wasn’t related to Ray Rice. In a New York Times op-ed, Jackson called the NFL’s policy on marijuana use “absurd.” Furthermore, in the article he admitted to medicating with cannabis throughout his career, and suggested that he wasn’t the only one.

So why does Jackson recommend that the NFL reconsider its stance on cannabis? For starters, there is the litany of gruesome and horrifying injuries he said he suffered during his professional football career. From muscles being pulled off his bones to brain trauma to torn ligaments and broken bones, he seems to have suffered it all, including dislocating his shoulders. From the beginning of his op-ed, Jackson made it clear that he thinks players in the NFL need marijuana as a painkiller.

According to Jackson, the locker room perception of marijuana mirrors that of the United States in general, “It’s not a big deal.” He suggested some players have been using marijuana since adolescence, and their making it to the NFL is an indication of how little marijuana affected their ambitions.

Jackson used Cleveland Browns wide-receiver Josh Gordon as another example because Gordon received a 16-game suspension when he tested positive for marijuana while in a probationary program from a previous substance-abuse policy infraction. Gordon’s original infraction was a positive test for codeine, which he says he used to treat strep throat.

In his op-ed, Jackson also examined Gordon’s performance last season as an indication of his abilities. Jackson points out that Gordon was responsible for learning and memorizing a playbook, as well as his team’s sign language, including quarterback signals at the line of scrimmage for audibles. Then, on top of all this, Gordon stood out among other world-class athletes with over 1,600 receiving yards, despite missing two games to suspension last season. What Jackson has suggested is that if Gordon used cannabis, it didn’t have a noticeable effect on his game.

So why is cannabis the preferred choice of painkiller for this former Bronco? He’s been paying attention to some of the same reports we have. He noted that pain treatments in the NFL are generally managed through prescription pills and injections of painkillers before each game — what he calls “the pill and needle approach.”

Jackson said these pills are the same pills that have caused 17,000 overdose deaths in 2011, and the same pills that lead to apathy and drug problems. He called these drugs in effect the real gateway drug by pointing out that it’s the abuse of prescription painkillers that leads high school kids to heroin when the pills don’t work anymore. The benefit of marijuana as a painkiller, according to Jackson, is that players who medicate that way, “[…] avoid the heavy daze of pain pills.” The NFL players who medicate with marijuana were sharper, according to Jackson.

The NFL Players Association was sent a revised drug policy on September 8, according to the league. The NFLPA tabled the vote. The proposed drug policy was rumored to increase the amount of allowable THC to be found in an athlete’s system. Currently, the NFL policy allows up to 15 nanograms of THC per millileter of blood to be detected in a player’s system. That is ten-times less than the World Anti-Doping Agency’s threshold.

While pain will always be an issue in the NFL, players should be allowed to choose marijuana as a pain-management option, instead of having no recourse but to be injected with or ingest dangerous, addictive chemicals.

Matt Berg is a writer from Northwest Denver. Matt writes on a range of topics including science, music, motorcycles, politics, sports and more. He is always looking for adventure and his next story to tell. Connect with Matt on Twitter: @tomjoad187.

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