The world of the NFL was rocked a few weeks back by the sudden retirement of 49ers stud linebacker, Chris Borland.
Borland was somewhat of a Cinderella story. Last year during his rookie (and, as it turns out, his only) season in the NFL, Borland set records left and right and finished among the leagues best at his position. Borland was drafted late because he’s not a very big man and many teams were concerned his small stature would rule him out of contention on a field with 300lb behemoths running full speed.
But when Borland was called to action due to injuries to the starters, he far from disappointed. His only season in the NFL is one constant highlight reel. Simply put, he was a force.
Being the Niner fan that I am, I took news of his retirement particularly hard (Google 49ers off-season woes). However, I do understand and respect Borland’s choice to retire. He did a lot of research into head injuries after sustaining a hard blow in pre-season practice and, after being sidelined by a shoulder injury late last season, began to revisit his thoughts about playing the sport. Ultimately, he decided he’d rather not risk his brain and future and hung up his cleats after one spectacular season.
So what does any of this have to to with cannabis?
The NFL’s stance on cannabis is a nebulous thing. On the surface, they are strictly anti-pot, citing the fact that it is an illegal substance on the federal level. However, it’s almost an unspoken truth that a huge amount of players routinely use cannabis. It often feels as though when a player is punished for cannabis use, it has more to do with proving a point or making an example to other players and less to do with anything actually related to the plant itself.
This relates to Borland because there is a steadily growing concern among current and former players that the NFL doesn’t really care about them as people, only caring insofar as the player can help generate revenue. Cannabis has been linked to positive results in patients recovering from brain trauma and it is well known among players as a substance that helps them recover faster and is free of the crippling addiction and horrid side effects of popping pills.
If we see a rash of young, talented players choose to protect their brains by following Borland into retirement, rather than generate ad money for executives, how long can the NFL afford to endure the exodus of talent? Talent that puts butts in the seats and eyes on the ads.
Perhaps the NFL, rather than deferring to the cumbersome, disorganized political orgy that it would take to reclassify cannabis, could try to lead the way on cannabis. Now, not being lawmakers themselves, there may not be much they can do on the legal/illegal issue, but they could take steps to get out of the way of players who choose to use cannabis.
It is within the power of the NFL to simply remove cannabis from their list of prohibited substances in the player’s rule book. They could simply take a step back and let law enforcement deal with players who get busted with cannabis and stop policing their own players for such a non-issue. They could even devote a small fraction of their ungodly amount of ad time/space to educating people honestly about cannabis.
Cannabis does not enhance performance and it leads to healthier players who can play the sport longer, because they can recover in a healthier way. There is no reason it should be prohibited by the NFL. The NFL is out of their wheelhouse on cannabis and they either need to come out in support of it for the sake of their players, or, at the very least, make it a non-issue from their stance and stop suspending/banning players for smoking weed.