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Rosas: The hypocrisy of marijuana policies in professional sports

In a CSN Bay Area podcast released this past Friday, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr divulged that he experimented with using marijuana medicinally during the long and arduous recovery from his back surgery last season.

Naturally, in the 24-hour news cycle at ESPN, Kerr’s revelation traveled throughout the sports world, making its way into media scrums across the league about medical marijuana for players in the pain business that is professional sports. Almost like a broken record, numerous players questioned how addictive prescription medicine continues to be passed around like candy while cannabis consumption remains taboo based off a smear campaign from William Randolph Hearst decades ago. The players change, but the conversation always remains the same.

And honestly, I’m getting pretty tired of this still being an issue.

“When you look at something that comes from the earth, any vegetable that comes from the earth, they encourage you to eat it. So, I guess it does make a little sense as opposed to giving someone a manufactured pill. If something takes your pain away like some of these pills do, it can’t be that good for you.”

Warriors’ forward Draymond Green’s comments about the issue may be comically oversimplified, but he hits the nail right on the head while explaining the hypocrisy surrounding cannabis and the business that is professional sports.

How can we logically look at the physical pain athletes in all sports are forced to undergo yet at the same time prohibit a less addicting and medically beneficial plant based on society’s incomprehensible negative perceptions?

The OxyContin, Vicodin, etc., passed around every level of sports silently continues to produce more and more addicts with each generation of athletes. According to studies by the University of Michigan, approximately 11 percent of high school senior athletes will have used a narcotic pain reliever such as OxyContin or Vicodin — for non-medical purposes. Meanwhile, 80 percent of heroin users arrive at the drug after starting their addiction with prescription narcotics.

In Sports Illustrated’s June 2015 magazine edition, authors L. Jon Wertheim and Ken Rodriguez explored the opium epidemic affecting athletes of all ages, investigating specific cases around the nation involving adolescent athletes that fall into prescription pill addiction through sports injuries. While investigating for only seven months, the experienced writers “found overdose victims in baseball, basketball, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball and wrestling — from coast to coast.”

The problem is only magnified on the professional level. Retired wide receiver Calvin Johnson told the Washington Post in July that painkillers “were handed out like candy” to the players. In addition to Johnson’s comments, over 1500 retired players are currently suing the NFL and all 32 professional teams, alleging that doctors often distributed painkillers without examinations or prescriptions and that players were deliberately misled about their dangerous side effects.

All of these statistics scream of an epidemic. Opioid addiction is a crisis that extends far beyond sports, and into thousands of communities across America. We are looking at a nationwide addiction, a disease, that threatens lives, not just careers. 

That’s why it just doesn’t make sense to me that marijuana consumption continues to remain a hot-button issue. The country’s real dependency problems related to prescription pills continue to remain relatively quiet, while 94 percent of the studies surrounding marijuana only explore its harm while dismissing its benefits, according to neurosurgeon and CNN medical consultant Sanjay Gupta.

Even beyond marijuana’s known medical benefits, professional trainers and doctors should be welcoming any known alternative to painkillers if their focus is truly on the health and wellbeing of the athletes they allow into the game every day. 

Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu if you believe that his article is motivated more by his desire to be able to smoke weed during his future professional curling career than by his interest in responsible substance management. 

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