At 8pm EST next Thursday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make the first selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. As we prepare to tune in to the beginnings of what will be, for some, the realization of lifelong dreams let’s also consider those men for whom those dreams are a memory. Let’s think of the retired players, years removed from the gridiron, whose bodies are beginning to feel the pull of age, and the physical punishment that was the cost of entry to football’s biggest stage. For these athletes pain is often a constant fact of life, and while the current stable of legal painkillers provides some relief the safest medication is still federally prohibited: medical marijuana.
The vast majority of players that have ever suited up in an NFL uniform did not go on to be household names. In fact, the average NFL career is only three to six years. Even these relatively short pro stints, however, are filled with repeated contact reported to be similar to a car crash. Oftentimes youth, adrenaline, and cortisone shots enable these men to function normally during their playing days, but as time wears on these crushing hits that earn our ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ eventually add up to debilitating joint and muscle pain.
When players are away from NFL trainers and team doctors – providing top dollar medical care – what options remain? Not all players walk away from the game with the sort of contracts to maintain top quality healthcare throughout retirement. We’ve spoken with retired players like Israel Idonije who relayed stories of friends in so much pain they couldn't get out of bed without medication. When over the counter pain painkillers are not enough, players must turn to current prescription narcotics that carry heavy risk of accidental overdose or addiction.
Though medical marijuana has lately been making headlines for the CBD-heavy seizure medications and as an appetite-stimulant and nausea-suppressant for cancer patients, it’s also a highly safe and effective analgesic. Medical marijuana is a superior medication for pain, and any hesitation over its general availability is an issue for proper regulation, not prohibition. Medical marijuana is also highly safe, especially when compared to opioids like Vicodin, Codeine, Oxycotin, and Percocet. Cannabis is not chemically addictive like these substances, and there has never been a recorded case of death due to marijuana overdose. In fact, accidental overdoses in states with medical marijuana laws on the books drop by 25% .
When we watch the draft we think of the futures of these young players in terms of how they can help our favorite team win in the next few years. Will he solidify our front seven? Is he the answer to the problems in our secondary? Will we finally have a running game? Is this the quarterback that will transform our franchise? It’s harder to take the long view and ask if, in twenty or thirty years, he’ll be one of the lucky ones that only needs a cane to get around, or if he’ll instead need to rely on powerful medication. The NFL itself is only just beginning to think in these terms because former stars are forcing it to. Once these players step out of the limelight we can continue to support them. As fans, consumers, and voters, we can push to allow athletes across the country – in addition to countless other people living daily with crippling pain – access to medical marijuana: the safest pain reliever on record.