If you know me, then you know how much I have always loved the game of basketball. I get that sports are not for everyone, which is why I don't push my fanatical love for basketball on to others. However, basketball has provided me a lot of enjoyable exercise over the years, most of my best friendships growing up originated while playing basketball, and I enjoy rooting for my favorite teams (Go Ducks and Go Blazers!). I can point to several times in my life that had I not gone to open gym or practice and instead went and did the other things I was thinking about doing, I would have been in a lot more trouble growing up.
With all of that being said, I'm by no means an elite athlete. Not even close. My passion and love for the game FAR exceeds my skills as a basketball player. Plus I'm about the size of a Hobbit, which for obvious reasons affects my max potential as basketball player to a large degree. But I don't have to be an elite athlete to know that elite athletes need to be in top physical condition at all times. For professional athletes, their bodies are the tools of their trade. You need everything dialed in because it could very well mean the difference between spraying champagne all over each other in the locker room after the game, or being in the awkward loser press conference trying to explain how things went wrong and opportunities were missed.
I've had some classmates growing up play at various levels of sports, all the way up to the professional level. I have watched them dedicate their lives to making their bodies reach their full potential, which is very difficult to do when simultaneously dealing with virtually constant injuries. My friends that played professional sports had been playing those contact sports since adolescence. If I had them make a list of all the injuries they sustained over the years, and the list of ailments that they will now have to deal with the rest of their lives as a result, I bet those would be very long lists. I am a bootleg gym rat and despite not ever playing at a high level, I too have a lot of wear and tear on my body from playing over the years. My feet are especially problematic.
Knowing what is on the line, all sports league front office members, and especially coaches and team owners, want players to be as healthy as possible. For the league and the team owners, the players are their product. For coaches, the players need to be healthy and dependable so they can excel in the games as expected. It's about the most important thing in professional sports. A hurt player is never as good as a healthy player. But for some reason as important as that is, leagues, owners, and coaches allow their fear of all things cannabis outweigh their desire to keep their players as healthy as possible. No matter what science says, no matter what doctors say, no matter what the players and fans say, the leagues, owners, and many coaches oppose the use of medical cannabis at all costs, event when presented with the facts that prove that medical cannabis would help a lot of players.
To make matters worse, harmful pharmaceutical painkillers are pushed on players like there's no tomorrow. That approach is obviously harmful to players who get their bodies torn apart, many get ruthlessly addicted to the painkillers, and in the end the players are in no way better off. They basically get used and abused, pumped full of toxic crap, and discarded and left to figure out how to care for themselves the rest of their lives. That's not only despicable on a human level, it's also bad business in that it dramatically limits the shelf life and performance of the players that are the very product that the league should want to protect. After all, its how they make their money.
I would like to think that league officials and owners are great people, and maybe some of them all. But I do know that professional sports are a business, and that money is high on the minds of league executives and team owners. It seems like a simple formula to me - a healthy player plays better, increasing the chances of victory, and if the play continues to stay healthy into the future, the franchise can bring said player back around to reminisce in the name of capitalism and profit. All the while merchandise is being sold from t-shirts to bobble heads to Dairy Queen cups (Blazer fans know what I mean!). It's not exactly rocket science, yet it's a formula that no professional sports team is allowed to truly follow. When people show up to see a retired hero athlete from years past, they would prefer to see that they are doing well. Seeing someone you used to think was larger than life looking like they are suffering greatly is awful, and for reasons that are extremely obvious, should be avoided if possible.
If a league does not allow the use of medical cannabis, it does not have the best interest of its players (and profits) in mind. A player gets hurt and can either use pharmaceutical painkillers to mask the pain and play a little bit longer in a limited fashion until their body completely gives out. Or the player can use medical cannabis which is so much less harmful and risky it's almost beyond measure, and not only will the player be back on the field in a less limited fashion, but will continue to get better because the cannabis isn't just helping mask the pain, it's also helping heal the injury itself. I'm not a doctor, but it seems to be very straightforward in my opinion.
Then when the last whistle has blown, the last out has been recorded, or the last match has ended, the athlete that used medical cannabis will continue to be more useful to the franchise (and themselves and their families for crying out loud) into the future compared to the pharmaceutical athlete because they won't be racked with addiction and their bodies will be better off. Of course, if a player wants to use pharmaceutical drugs and finds that it works better, by all means they should be allowed to do that too and I hope that they can keep it under control. However, more and more former players are coming out in support of medical cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceutical painkillers for a variety of reasons, a big one of which is because medical cannabis works better.
One retired professional athlete that told me that recently was former NBA player Cliff Robinson. Cliff Robinson was recently in the news from Oregon to Japan and everywhere in between after he announced he was starting a new sports cannabis brand called 'Uncle Spliffy'. The brand will carry a very strong activism and advocacy message, which is something that I'm very, very excited about. I got to hang out with Cliff this last week to talk about Uncle Spliffy, Cliff's story of about how medical cannabis has helped him, and about his vision for his activism pursuits. One thing that we discussed was how well certain types of medical cannabis products worked much better than pharmaceutical drugs.
"This rub right here works better for my pain than any thing else I've ever tried." Cliff Robinson said as he handed me a cannabis balm. As Cliff pointed out, the balm doesn't result in any euphoric effects, doesn't have any side effects, and isn't addictive. "There's no reason why an athlete should be prevented from using it if it helps. But unfortunately no league is going to allow that."
The obviously question is 'why not?' Why not allow something that is safer and according to athletes themselves, more effective? As I went on to discuss with Cliff, it seems like franchises would want their athletes to be at the peak of their health for maximum performance potential, yet the reefer madness boogeyman is just too big of a thing in professional sports leagues' minds to get on the right side of history and compassion. I just don't get it.
Cliff Robinson's conversation resonated with me because he would know first hand how well medical cannabis works for professional athletes. Cliff Robinson played the better part of two decades in the NBA, and in an era that was much different than today. In today's NBA, if someone high fives a player wrong it's a flagrant foul. Back in Clilffy's day, things were much different. I can't imagine what it was like to go up against guys like Karl Malone, Horace Grant, and Charles Barkley back when the physical play (especially by the hoop) was ROUGH. Guys would practically get their heads taken off back in those days and it would just be a common foul. They player would have a handful of seconds to regain full consciousness at the free throw line and it was back to the game as usual. Brutal! Cliff Robinson was right in the thick of it and thrived (50 points against the Denver Nuggets on 01/16/00!!), but I'm sure it took a huge toll on his body. If Cliff Robinson says that cannabis is an effective treatment for pain and sports injuries, I'm going to take that testimonial to the bank and leagues and owners should too.
To be clear, I think that athletes should be able to use medical cannabis because it's compassionate, and that is enough of a reason alone to reform marijuana laws in sports to allow for medical cannabis. Anything else is just frosting. However, I get that professional sports is a business, but that's all the more reason to support the use of medical cannabis in sports. It's better for the athletes, which in turn is better for the fans, which in turn is better for the bottom line. What am I missing here? Other than some seriously embedded, outdated political views by league executives and owners? Clearly logic and reasoning is not involved when there is a safe, effective medicine out there that would help players yet leagues hand down harsh penalties to players that touch it in any way.
Allowing medical cannabis use in professional sports is good for the future of those leagues. One thing that Cliff and I talked about was the stigma that goes with marijuana use in sports, at all levels. Cliff was a victim of that stigma himself when he was suspended for failing a drug test for using marijuana for medical purposes when he was in the league. I asked Cliff what would have happened to his career had he been caught with cannabis at a younger at, prior to becoming a professional athlete. He said it's tough to say, but that it definitely wouldn't have helped. How many kids and young adults were on their way to becoming a sports superstar but had their careers derailed simply and only because they were caught with marijuana in some fashion?
I have personally seen some very talented athletes throughout the years that were never given a fair chance at one level or another because they were branded with the 'marijuana scarlet letter.' If consuming or possessing marijuana were a harmful act, maybe I would feel different, but professional sports leagues should want the best players they can get that are good people. How many perfectly good people never made it to that level because of marijuana prohibition? Professional sports leagues should take the lead, and in no way am I saying that should include the promotion of use, especially among youth. Leagues should embrace medical cannabis for its athletes, and take a sensible approach to recreational use. Their product will be better off for it, and if they truly cared about their players and their fans, they would get on the right side of history and compassion.
There are some very real health issues facing professional sports leagues. Sports related injuries, especially brain related injuries, have dominated headlines for awhile now and I don't see that issue going anywhere for a very long time, if at all. Painkiller addiction is starting to become another sports news mainstay, and that definitely is not going away, at least not with the way the league treats players' injuries currently. Medical marijuana can help. One of the most dramatic testimonies I've ever seen, sports and cannabis or otherwise, was from former NFL player Kyle Turley (Gridiron Cannabis Coalition). Kyle battled painkiller addiction and some very dark thoughts prior to transitioning to a treatment regimen that included medical cannabis. It saved his life. That's very powerful stuff. Something that every fan, league executive, team owner, coach, and player should know about so that the next time a league suspends a player for marijuana, it doesn't just get brushed aside. There should be outrage. Below is Mr. Turley's video: