It’s not a stretch to say most professional sports leagues have problems in terms of policies, whether it’s the MLB with the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal or the NBA with player in-game discipline punishments. Yet, one league rises above the rest. That league is the NFL, and its inconsistency with disciplining players.
For example, ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, ex-Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and ex-New York Giants kicker Josh Brown have all received suspensions ranging from a single game to 10 games due to domestic violence. Players such as Rice and Brown essentially received one-game to two-game suspensions before public outrage prompted the NFL to take further action, and their teams released the players to calm public outrage.
What makes this even worse is the willingness to punish players for marijuana, but not domestic violence.
In 2015, ex-Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon received a year-long suspension for failing a marijuana test. He had previously been suspended for failing a marijuana test and missed 10 games. Some have semi-defended or taken a nuanced stance on the NFL for its harsh stance on Gordon.
Writing for Sports Illustrated, Andrew Brandt said, “Many fans [and media] erroneously compare and contrast penalties for marijuana use to those for things like deflated footballs or domestic violence.”
Why are fans and the media erroneous in comparing the penalties for marijuana use and domestic violence?
Brandt seems to explain why in the previous statements: “Despite continuing legislative (and societal) acceptance, the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement — negotiated by the owners and the players—still tests players for marijuana and disciplines them for positive tests,” and “In the latter cases, the Commissioner has wide discretion; with marijuana use, it is collectively bargained. Indeed, the topic of marijuana use represents one of the only things the NFL and NFLPA have agreed on since the negotiation of the 2011 CBA.”
The argument that because the players’ association and league agreed to a deal eight years ago as an excuse for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s incompetence for displacing players, is incredibly weak. The players have reported they want marijuana penalties to be decreased. In 2017, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) indicated the leaders of the NFLPA wanted, “drug policies to take a ‘less punitive’ approach to dealing with recreational marijuana use by players,” according to the Washington Post.
To give the NFL credit, they have recently agreed to work with the NFLPA to study the potential use of marijuana on pain management. However, this doesn’t change the absurd standard of a league potentially severely punishing you for doing something legal in many states, while actually breaking the law isn’t seen as big as a deal.
For example, ex-Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving was given an indefinite suspension last March for substance abuse. It apparently stemmed from marijuana. Instead of fighting the suspension, Irving decided to leave the NFL. Yet, ex-Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones physically assaulted a police officer in 2017. What was the length of Jones’s suspension? Just a single game.
What about ex-Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler? He physically struck a man, not a police officer, and broke the man’s glasses. Surely the NFL would discipline a player who was going to be on probation for a year. Nope, just a one-game suspension.
According to the league’s logic, using marijuana is really bad, but physically assaulting people? That’s not as bad.
So, how can the league fix this situation? The NFL is currently on the right track in regards to coming together with the NFLPA. However, the simple answer is to redo the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It’s going to expire soon anyway, and I can’t imagine the NFL wanting to have a similar mess-up such as the 2011 offseason.
“Everyone knows this game is brutal,” former offensive tackle Kyle Turley said in an article in the Los Angeles Times. “Cannabis saved my life, period, and it could help a lot of other players.”
Simply put, the NFL should drop any penalties to marijuana use.