Article by Ross Benes, Rolling Stone
At the conclusion of North Dallas Forty wide receiver Phil Elliott, played by Nick Nolte, gets blackballed by his team owner for “smoking a marijuana cigarette.” After being presented with a photo that shows Elliott toking up, the team owner patronizes Elliott and says, “Illegal drugs are forbidden by the league rules Phil, you know that.” To which Elliott replies: “Jesus, smoking grass, what are you kidding me? If you nailed all the ballplayers who smoked grass, you wouldn’t even be able to field a punt return team. Besides that, you give me the hardest stuff in Chicago just to get out of the goddamn locker room. Hard drugs!”
Though North Dallas Forty is technically fictional and came out nearly 40 years ago, its story is a classic example of the same-shit-different-day phenomenon. In recent weeks, Bills linemen Marcell Dareus andSeantrel Henderson were each suspended four games for using marijuana. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott caused a scandal by simply walking into a legal weed-friendly establishment. Meanwhile, the NFL was busy knuckling players into “cooperating” with a doping investigation based on scant and recanted evidence.
Given America’s growing acceptance of cannabis, the bad press the NFL gets when it punishes marijuana use more harshly than domestic abuse, and the personal tragedies and lawsuits that have stemmed from team doctors overprescribing opioids, it seems a little peculiar that the NFL continues to retain an authoritarian stance on marijuana use while team doctors simultaneously dole out powerful and addictive painkillers. Especially considering that the league is mired in concussion suits and there’s a possibility that cannabis could reduce the impact of head trauma.
To get a better grasp of this dissonance, let’s take a look at the changing national perception of marijuana, possible incentives the NFL has for maintaining its marijuana policies, upcoming football-related cannabis research initiatives, and what it might take to get the NFL to stop punishing players for using marijuana.