Smoke rises from new NFL agreement

By David Mullen

A funny thing happened on the way to a shutdown of sports that impacted millions of lives. Leagues are making big changes including in America’s No. 1 sport, the NFL. In March, ownership and the player’s union came together and are started to recognize the inevitable. Generally ignored by the sports media, — after all, there are much more important and life-threatening issues — the groups came close to a compromise on grass.

Photo courtesy of Green Rush Daily

No, not the kind that the game is played on. Artificial turf fields will remain because technologists have made tremendous strides in playing surfaces, especially when you considered that 300 lb. men once had to run full speed and tackle with full force on what amounted to an asphalt parking lot at old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

It is the kind of grass that is smoked.

In reaching a 10-year labor agreement in March that will circumvent a player’s strike and introduced other changes like an increase in player revenues, a loosening of the rules on marijuana use is in place. The elimination of drug testing for marijuana seems inevitable.

Penalty reduction seems to be the first step within the professional leagues. Major League Baseball has already removed marijuana from its banned substance list and players are no longer randomly tested for pot. The National Hockey League still tests for marijuana, but there is no punishment for a positive result. High levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in a player’s system will spawn a referral to an assistance program for evaluation, but no time in the penalty box.

According to the New York Times, under the new collective bargaining agreement, NFL players who test positive for marijuana will no longer be suspended. Many current and ex-Dallas Cowboys, like Randy Gregory, have reason to be relieved. Testing will be limited to the first two weeks of training camp instead of from April to August and the threshold for the amount of 9-delta (or THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana, needed to trigger a positive test will be greatly increased.

The conservative NFL, in some means, is actually moving toward the forefront among professional leagues because as generations pass, marijuana use is a non-issue. “There is a generalized sense that the fans don’t care about the issue, so it’s possible to appear progressive,” Paul Haagen, co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University told the New York Times.

Detailing the NBA and NBA Players Association agreed-upon drug policy in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, a report stated that “since 1983, the NBA and NBPA have jointly maintained and administered a comprehensive anti-drug program. The purpose of the program is to detect and deter the use of illegal and performance-enhancing drugs by players and to provide treatment and counseling for those who are struggling with substance abuse problems.

“Generally, the program prohibits players from using drugs of abuse (e.g., methamphetamine, MDMA, cocaine, opiates), marijuana (including synthetic cannabinoids), steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents (SPEDs) and diuretics.

“If a player tests positive for marijuana, or if he is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, the use or possession of marijuana, he will be required to submit to treatment, counseling and aftercare testing in the Program. A second violation will result in a $25,000 fine, a third violation will result in a five-game suspension and any subsequent violations will result in a suspension that is five games longer than the player’s immediately-preceding marijuana suspension. There is no penalty to a player coming forward voluntarily for marijuana or for a drug of abuse, if he has never been in the program for a drug of abuse.”

The NBA plan was scrutinized when reports surfaced that Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters had ingesting a THC product on a plane flight. The NBA is prohibited from “publicly disclosing information regarding the testing or treatment of any NBA player.”

“That’s Waiters: W-A-I …”

Currently, 22 states have legalized marijuana for personal use. Almost every other state has significantly reduced consumption laws or are considering full legalization. Of course, Texas, still influenced by conservative leadership and the religious right, ranks at the bottom in terms of reducing marijuana laws.

In the NBA, that means that players of the Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks reside in states where marijuana is legal but are still subject to testing. In the NFL, there are seven such teams.

The NFL will no longer suspend for positive tests, although players can still be fined. No pro sport is as physically punishing as football and players have long used marijuana for medicinal purposes. Scientific testing has confirmed that marijuana use for treatment is far better than using potentially addicting pain killers.

NFL stars Ricky Williams and Rob Gronkowski have been forthright about the benefits of marijuana. In 2016, the first active player, Eugene Monroe, offensive lineman of the Baltimore Ravens, petitioned the league to stop testing all together so he and others could take it to treat chronic pain. Monroe told the New York Times, “Why are they still testing at all? I don’t understand. Just move on from this and do the right thing and let the players make the choice. There’s no secret that players smoke marijuana.”

On Twitter, defensive back Quandre Diggs of the Seattle Seahawks may have said it best. “No lie. I could care less about the marijuana policy.” Still, many NFL owners saw easing the testing protocol as a concession to players.

It may be a small step, but it took years for the NFL to eliminate inferior artificial grass. Let’s see how long it takes the react to the allowing real grass.