The National Football League is the undisputed No. 1 sport in the country, generating huge TV ratings, legal and illegal gambling in the form of a massive Fantasy Football industry and widespread interest among all demographics. Yet there is one area where it is behind the times – the shift in public opinion about the recreational use of marijuana.
To highlight this disconnect, the Marijuana Policy Project paid $5,000 for a 48-foot-wide billboard in Denver prior to the season-opener between the Broncos and the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. It urged the NFL to “stop driving players to drink” with harsh penalties for marijuana use, noting that, “a safer choice is now legal (here)” as Colorado voters approved an initiative in November to make marijuana legal for adults. The Department of Justice also recently announced that it will allow states to move forward with regulating marijuana cultivation and retail sales.
The Marijuana Policy Project, formed in 1995, has also launched a Change.org petition directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the league to change its harsh marijuana policy. “For years, the NFL has been punishing players for using marijuana despite the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol, a substance widely embraced by the league,” said Mason Tvert, the MPP’s director of communications in a press release.
“The league would never punish a player simply for having a couple of beers, so why does it penalize them for using a substance that is less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violence?” Tvert added. “The NFL’s harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players. … We hope Commissioner Goodell will explain why the NFL is willing to promote the use of alcohol among its players and fans, but unwilling to recognize that a safer alternative is now legal here.”
The NFL refused to comment on the billboard, which will stay up at least through Sept. 22, or Tvert’s statements and any policy changes would have to be negotiated through the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and players.
“We’re seeing this shift that even the federal government is now recognizing. So why does the NFL feel it has to be in the business of policing marijuana beyond the legal penalties already in place?” Tvert explained. The most severe penalty for marijuana use handed out came in 2006 when running back Ricky Williams was suspended for 18 months as a repeat offender. Most recently, All-Pro linebacker Von Miller of the Broncos was suspended for the first six games of this season for what is rumored to be marijuana use.
“These are $150 fines in many states but by missing a multiple number of games, these players are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and it’s threatening their livelihood,” Tvert, who operates a $2 million budget and has almost 140,000 people on his e-mail list, said.
Can the NFL continue to resist a national trend? “The writing’s on the wall,” said Tvert. “Most of the nation supports the recreational use of marijuana by an adult.” Does the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” axiom apply here?
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