NFL and Marijuana: A Deeper Look

Ahsan Khan

Hey Class! This is my smore page about my summative. This topic will be explored through different real-life cases. Some cases include the Ray Rice case, Antonio Gates PED scandal and the recent Laremy Tunsil case which led to him losing out on millions of dollars. I compare both sides of the "story", looking at the positives and negatives and how marijuana should/should not be regulated by the NFL. Furthermore my infographic relays statistical information and shows how Marijuana is the #1 cause for suspensions and has led to loss of revenue from the NFL. Furthermore it shows how many fans do not see NFL players as role models due to the most of the league indulging in marijuana use, domestic violence and PED use. I will be stating my opinions on these issues and will come to a conclusion based on the research about how NFL should/should not be involved in marijuana cases

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Research Question: NFL's policy and rules have caused players who smoke marijuana to be suspended the same duration as players who commit acts of violence or use PED's. Marijuana does not affect or increase an athletes performance if used properly. Because of this, should the NFL handle cases regarding marijuana or consider changes?

Ahsan Khan

Recording (13) by Ahsan Khan

Major Findings of Research

Does Marijuana Affect Athletic Performance?

Included Sub themes: Health issues, usage/overdose/"appropriate use"

What happens to the body when you use marijuana?

Marijuana contains cannabinoids which include THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the ingredient that is responsible for the side effects. (bengreenfieldfitness , n.d) . Within your neurons there contains cannabinoid receptors on the presynaptic and post-synaptic membranes. THC binds to cannabinoid receptor 1 while another ingredient named cannabinol binds to receptor 2. These receptors then affect pain, psychological processes and more.

Usage of marijuana and how it affects NFL players

Marijuana is a recreational drug which is known and used largely worldwide. The intake of Marijuana has many "sudden" effects on the human body, many of which fade away quickly. Marijuana also known as cannabis is common with NFL players. While it is illegal in the sport of football, many NFL players have stood up as advocates to make it legal in the sport as it does not harm a player if used properly. Furthermore, in the NHL, marijuana is a legal recreational drug. This has made many people wonder as to why marijuana is a suspendable cause in the NFL. Firstly, Marijuana increases the heart rate, so blood flow increases. This strains the ventricles causing a reduction in stroke volume. Increased heart rate and a lower stroke volume results in a cardiac output which is lower than a normal athlete in the NFL. This is the "negative" to marijuana use as this effect occurs from its abuse and is a reason as to why the NFL has marijuana as a banned substance. Marijuana affects the proper functioning of the nervous system, affects motor coordination and slows down reaction time and hand-eye coordination reducing sports performance instead of enhancing (Wentworth, n.d.). Continuing on, cannabinoids such as marijuana suppress pain and relieve it. Many NFL players use it for this reason. This is the "positive" to marijuana use in NFL players and is an alternative proof and reasoning

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Are the suspensions for Marijuana users fair?

Included Subthemes: League Rules/policies, Illegality, Equality

To get a deeper understanding about this theme, specific NFL cases can be observed. Ray Rice was suspended for 2 games originally for abusing his girlfriend, the video was made public and the NFL changed its ruling to indefinitely (Frank, 2015). Beating a women is considered an illegal act based on NFL rulings but it is also deemed illegal in the USA. Players who were using marijuana at the time were getting 4 game suspensions. Who would have thought that an act considered illegal would garner a much lower suspension than an act that is deemed legal in some states and has a minimum effect on the players. For example, looking into the Sheldon Richardson (NYJ player) case. He tested positive for marijuana and was handed a 4 game suspension by the NFL. This leads to the question , is marijuana considered to be a worse offence than physical abuse to a human? Now one can say that the NFL should not be involved due to this. But another opinion can be made that the NFL should be involved but change its rulings. For players who test positive for anabolic steroids or stimulants, it results in a 4 game suspension. Players such as Chargers TE Antonio Gates was suspended 4 games for PED. Performance Enhancing Drugs provide a physical advantage (ex: increased strength, increased recovery time allowing players to have higher endurance) during games while drugs such as marijuana don’t. This makes a statement about how NFL should not be involved in the handling and processing of these players if league suspension policies are not revised. Rather, marijuana has many negative effects as explained in the first theme of research and alternatively it can be said that the NFL should be involved cause of this. Continuing on, Greg Hardy is another popular name in the news. Hardy was suspended for personal conduct (assault), his original suspension was for 10 games which was changed to 4 games by the NFL after an appeal from Hardy. This makes a statement about the NFL and how the commissioner believes that assault is comparable to marijuana use because players who use marijuana also get 4 game suspensions.

Reality of Reputation in Sport

Included Subthemes: Maintaining Fans, Media, Revenue, Stigma, Societal Norm

Laremy Tunsil, recent Miami Dolphins draft pick was a projected top pick. A video surfaced of him smoking marijuana on social media networks minutes before the draft. Many NFL teams passed on drafting an elite talent and his draft stock fell. Usage of marijuana might devalue the league and cause fans to stop purchasing jerseys and tickets, leading to decreased revenue. Marijuana decreases reputation of NFL as it is deemed illegal and a harming substance. Societal norms. A quote from the NFL proves that reputation is a big factor and is the reason as to why the NFL is involved and should continue to be in marijuana cases, it states “For the time being, the NFL and its players union have failed to financially support marijuana-related medical research. Among the reasons are negative stigmas associated with the drug, plus the fact its possession and usage is prohibited under the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as illegal in most states” (Marvez, 2016). Looking at another NFL player named Josh Gordon who led the league in receiving during the 2013 NFL season, he is also one player who gained very high praise and reputation from colleagues and fans from all around the world. When a player does well, he becomes a role model or idol to people. After that year, the NFL tested him for marijuana during the yearly drug testing period. His sample came back positive and was given a suspension. Since then he has constantly failed numerous drug tests and this information has been shared with the social media. Now, marijuana testing is done once a year and is subjective. 2 samples are taken, if sample A is positive then sample b is tested. If sample B is also positive then this results in a suspension. Josh Gordon's first test had a marijuana level that was higher than what is in the rule book. The second sample was below the marijuana level and he was still given a suspension. This stirred up a lot controversy on social media and all the world. Those marijuana activists and NFL fans supported Josh Gordon's acts and said to remove his ban or change the rulings. But looking at an alternative perspective and meaning, most if not all fans said that what Josh Gordon has done is wrong and he should indeed be suspended as one sample is enough for suspension. This is because believe that marijuana is a "harmful substance" since it is classified as a drug and the stigma revolving around the use of it. If the NFL removes its marijuana policy, the drug situation will get out of hand. Fans will stop watching the game and sponsors might leave as they would not want to sponsor a company who allows drug use. An alternate explanation can also be that the NFL should be involved to prevent the league from losing excessive money. On the infograph, it can be seen on the first picture that substance abuse has lead to the most suspensions and the most amount of money lost as people do not support such things.
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This picture, taken from the info graph proves the theme and stigma revolving around marijuana. As shown, through a survey 46 % of fans believe that NFL players are not good role models and this is the most out of any sports league. This is almost half of the fans surveyed. Of course these fans have made this statement based on the numerous marijuana, PED and violence acts that have surfaced on social media. The first picture on the info graph shows that indeed marijuana, PED's and violence are the top 3 reasons for suspension. The media have stirred up a frenzy making fans think differently about NFL and its players showing its loss in reputation as a league.

What is my position on the question?

After researching information to make a statement on the question and also looking at both sides of argument, I came to the conclusion that NFL should handle cases regarding marijuana as they are doing so right now but there needs to be changes made to the policy regarding suspensions. Firstly, through research, I found that even though marijuana is "used properly" (meaning no overdose) , it still has side effects which affect the human body later on. If young athletes smoke marijuana, this can be very harmful to them as they usually develop and become superior in the midst of their career. Those harmful effects such as lowering cardiac output and affecting the nervous system(reaction time and coordination) degrade a players ability to perform at a top-notch level and beat out the competition. Furthermore, fans will not want to watch NFL games due to players not playing at their highest levels. It is estimated that approximately 50% of NFL players use or have smoked marijuana during their careers. Even though players such as Josh Gordon (WR for Browns) used marijuana, he put up league leading recieving numbers. But , it is highly possible that those results wont return in the future due to health effects associated with marijuana use. Continuing on, through the research of duration of suspensions (marijuana vs other), it led me to further my position that the NFL should be involved but policies should be changed. Looking at the Ray Rice case, he was suspended originally for 2 games. Furthermore, Antonio Gates used PED's and got a 4 game suspension. Comparing this to players who are caught for smoking marijuana, the players get 4 game suspensions for the first time. The PED suspension could possibly be fair but Ray Rice was given 2 games which was eventually changed. Violence and abuse, in my opinion is a worse situation than a player who goes over the limit for marijuana. This is why I believe that NFL should still be involved in cases regarding marijuana but need to consider making changes to policies/suspensions. Marijuana testing is done once a year during a certain time period. After that players are free. The NFL should change this ruling and make the drug test a random occurrence throughout the year. This will cause players to think about their actions before smoking marijuana. This also leads to another theme which is "Reality of Reputation in Sport". The reality is that fans will support a league that is free of violence and drug use due to the stigmas evolving around them for being a "bad" or negative" thing. If players smoke marijuana, it will result in a huge loss for the player and the NFL as a whole as sponsors will leave and so will the reputation of the league. After all, NFL should continue to handle cases involving players using marijuana due to the reasons stated and should also consider changes to accommodate for equality

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What are the limitations to the research?

One of the limitations/ problems when completing research to get an understanding to the question was that the NFL has a drug program with different stages. Stage 1 does not produce a suspension instead it is a substance abuse program. The only way a player can be suspended is under the personal conduct policy. Furthermore, Stage 2 on the other hand does give a suspension. For the players that were researched on, it was unclear if they had gone through this drug program or if they had got a suspension right away via the personal conduct policy as most of the time NFL does not disclose information about players entering stage 1. Another limitation/problem that I faced was the bias on each research website, many websites showed how marijuana rulings should be removed. This caused me to rethink my answer to this question but did not influence me to the point where I changed my decision.
Who are the stakeholders?

Regarding my question, there are a variety of stakeholders (people/parties involved) that play a role in my research question. Firstly the stakeholders are the NFL players who have been involved in cases regarding marijuana/violence/steroid use. All of them have received suspensions. Some of the recent ones include

  1. Josh Gordon (marijuana use, 16 games- abuser)
  2. Sheldon Richardson (marijuana use, 4 games)
  3. Martavis Bryant (marijuana use, 4 games)
  4. Rolando McClain (marijuana use, 4 games)
  5. Antonio Gates (PED use, 4 games)
  6. Derek Wolfe (PED use, 4 games)
  7. Demarcus Lawrence (PED use, 4 games)
  8. Greg Hardy (Personal Conduct, 10 game suspension changed to 4 games)
  9. Ray Rice (Personal Conduct, 2 game suspension changed to indefinite amount)

Furthermore, some other parties include the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, as he is the one handing out the suspensions. Also the NFLPA (NFL players association) is also involved in the question. Players are a part of the NFLPA and have to abide by the rulings that the NFLPA has agreed on with the NFL.

Future Exploration?

Through the process of completing my research, many new questions popped up and a few new themes to further explore in detail. Some of the questions were

  1. Is marijuana considered to be a worse offence than physical abuse to a human?
  2. Should the NFL consider testing its players more than once in a year?
  3. Since marijuana is becoming legalized in many states and places, should the NFL do so to?
  4. How many fans, revenue, sponsors have players or the NFL lost after being suspended for marijuana use.

Furthermore, another topic/theme that would be worth researching in detail for the future would be to compare NFL marijuana policy with other leagues policies to see if NFL is too "soft" or "rough" and also compare other suspensions as well

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Thank you for looking at my summative, below is a link to my survey which I hope you can complete. Thanks!


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