The NFL, one of the strictest sports leagues when it comes to cannabis use, is full of cannabis users.
This revelation is courtesy “America’s most infamous stoner athlete,” Ricky Williams — the elite NFL running back who lost, recovered, and then nearly lost his playing career again due to cannabis use.
As many as 70 percent of the pro football players Williams lined up near and butted heads with use cannabis, he told Sports Illustrated in a lengthy long-read and film documentary released Wednesday — including coaches and quarterbacks.
Et tu, Peyton?
In the late 1990s, Williams won the Heisman Trophy as the country’s best college football player at the University of Texas — which was where and when he began using cannabis. Having smoked a handful of times during high school, he tried cannabis to soothe stress and anxiety: he was having a record-breaking year for the Longhorns, but his ex-girlfriend was also dating the team’s quarterback.
After smoking cannabis, he says, he had his first full night’s sleep in months.
He began using marijuana in the NFL after he was prescribed prescription painkillers for an injury. The painkillers caused constipation that was almost as painful as the original injury, he told Sports Illustrated. Instead of taking the pills that team trainers handed out like candy to teammates, he would use marijuana for pain relief.
He failed his first drug test in 2002, the year he was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Miami Dolphins (who drug-test earlier in the year than the Saints, he told SI). He led the league in rushing in 2003 while in the NFL’s “substance-abuse program” — then he was injured again. The night he was injured, he smoked. The morning after, he was tested.
That put him in “the system,” as he says. Following that, he was drug tested more than 500 times during his NFL career.
He failed multiple times, leading to a brief retirement in 2004, during which he lived in — yes — Grass Valley, California, and a season-long suspension which lead to one season playing in the Canadian Football League — which doesn’t test for marijuana, but now bans suspended NFL players from suiting up north of the border, known as the “Ricky Williams rule.”
Meanwhile, fairly or no, he became the poster boy for marijuana use — and the NFL did not like it. The Dolphins tried to recover an $8.6 million signing bonus from him, which in part prompted his return.
And the league “took it upon itself to try and ruin someone,” according to Kyle Turley, another former NFL player who now embraces cannabis as a salve for the major physical and mental toll the game takes on its players.
Turley himself replaced a regimen heavy on painkillers with marijuana. He credits the move with saving his life. Before, he had suicidal thoughts and considered lashing out with violence against his children and his wife. Now, he lost 10 pounds, uses only cannabis and no pills, and credits marijuana with saving his marriage and life.
Williams has embraced the plant that nearly destroyed his career. He is now a business partner in a San Francisco-based cannabis-friendly gym, Power Plant Fitness and Wellness, and traveled to Spain for the “Spannabis” cannabis conference and expo. He’s exploring CBD therapy, and hopes other football players embrace the plant’s palliative power.
The NFL still bans cannabis use, and has suspended key players like Cleveland’s Josh Brown for entire seasons for violating the league’s drug policy — which, NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell said before the Super Bowl, will remain in place for the near future.
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