Less than a week after the first Super Bowl between teams in states with legal recreational marijuana, comments from NFL players about the issue of pot-testing in football continue to make headlines.
In an interview with the website Thisis50.com, New York Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie said, "We're just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, 'Y'all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.'"
Cromartie took to Twitter on Wednesday to clarify that the “We” in his original quote was meant to represent NFL players and not himself -- “I don’t smoke so I don’t care about it,” Cromartie said -- but his point was made. In a Jan. 17 story about pot use in the NFL, Robert Klemko of The MMQB took an unscientific poll of “48 current and former players, front office execs, head and assistant coaches, agents, medical professionals and marketing professionals” and found that evidence “suggests that more than half of all players smoke marijuana regularly.”
If marijuana is still on the NFL’s list of banned substances, how could over 50 percent of players use pot regularly? It’s because the NFL doesn’t test for street drugs on a year-round basis. And unless a player has been busted for a positive drug test, they will not be tested in-season. The NFL’s testing window amounts to a brief period during the offseason and once during training camp. One player agent told Klemko, “I know when not to bother some of my guys because they’re on edge. It’s the time of year when they can’t smoke.”
Even if this blind-eye policy is tantamount to acceptance, at least during the regular season, a violation can have major consequences. Star linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos was suspended for six games this season after the NFL ruled that he had attempted to tamper with a positive urine sample, and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner was suspended indefinitely from the team and missed the Super Bowl following a positive test for marijuana. However, the details of Browner’s case are extremely convoluted and it’s cases like his that lead to the types of frustrations voiced by Cromartie.
Cromartie is hardly alone in his sentiments. On Thursday, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” and said he agreed with Cromartie’s comments.
"It's 100 percent true. They're fighting a losing battle. The testing isn't stringent," Clark said. "There is one random test during OTAs and minicamps during the offseason, and everybody will be tested early in training camp. After that, there are no more tests. So guys understand the ways to get around failing a drug test."
Although he too later clarified on Twitter that he doesn’t use pot, Clark said that "I know guys on my team who smoke," and they his teammates generally use marijuana as a method of coping with the physical and psychological demands of their profession, not simply because “these are guys trying to be cool.”
"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."
Recent medical research has indicated that marijuana may be effective for recovering from brain injuries, an issue that’s particularly sensitive to the NFL in the wake of their still-pending concussion settlement with former players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently indicated that the league would look into the issue.
"We'll continue to follow the medicine,” Goodell said last week. “Our experts right now are not indicating that we should change our policy in any way. We are not actively considering that at this point in time. But if it goes down the road sometime, that's something that we would never take off the table."