Professional sports are little more than a fun distraction for many people, but professional sports leagues – and the athletes who play in them – have often been important agents for societal change. Consider, for example, how important Jackie Robinson was to the world by helping to break the color barrier in baseball. Magic Johnson helped educate the world about HIV and put a familiar face on the disease.
And a variety of players have done important work in other areas. Some contribute heavily to an important charity, while others make wishes come true for sick children.
But what about the decriminalization of marijuana? Can professional athletes play a role in this societal battle?
Tokers, Tokers Everywhere
Part of the reason athletes may play an important role in legalizing marijuana is that there are so many cannabis enthusiasts who play professional sports. We often hear about this when athletes are suspended for testing positive for THC, but there are plenty of players who manage to navigate the drug-testing procedures of their sport and smoke incognito.
Josh Gordon, receiver for the Cleveland Browns, has been suspended multiple times for testing positive, as has fellow receiver Martavis Bryant, running back Le’Veon Bell and NBA player Larry Sanders. And while he’s technically an “amateur” athlete, Olympic great Michael Phelps has been spotted smoking a little marijuana on occasion.
Ricky Williams actually retired from the NFL at the peak of his career so that he could smoke without worrying about the consequences. But Ricky is perhaps most famous for claiming that as many as 70 percent of current NFL players smoke marijuana.
And this isn’t a new phenomenon – plenty of old-timers have been completely open about their marijuana usage, including NBA coaching great Phil Jackson and NBA Hall of Famers Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabar.
Recreation and Recuperation
Some professional athletes use cannabis for recreational purposes, but many use the plant medicinally. Whether to help take the edge of pain (while often avoiding the use of highly addictive pain killers), or help reduce inflammation, many modern athletes find marijuana to be an indispensable part of their recovery process. Many use it to help them sleep after being “amped up” for hours before and during a game.
Others rely on cannabis to help them with the mental aspects of playing sports at such a high level. After all, there is nothing better for helping to calm the anxieties that come along with performing on such a large stage as marijuana.
Path to Progress
The best way professional athletes could help advance the efforts of legalization advocates would be through their collective bargaining abilities. If the athletes in a given sport – the NBA or NFL are probably the best choices – stick together, and demand that their league stop testing for marijuana, it will launch a larger discussion among the population at large.
In doing so, they won’t have changed a single law, but by virtue of the visibility their occupations provide, they’ll have done a great deal to help us become a country in which marijuana is legal.