While its legalization is rapidly expanding across the United States, use of marijuana can still result in lengthy suspensions for NFL players despite having medicinal properties. Todd Herremans is hoping that won't be the case for much longer, as the retired Eagles guard is part of a growing push for the league to evaluate and perhaps change the rules.
Herremans has emerged as a pot advocate at a time when the NFL Players Association is working on a proposal to amend the league's drug policy. The union has been studying the positive effects marijuana can have for the types of injuries and chronic pain associated with the game of football, and now sounds prepared to meet the issue head on when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated.
Herremans admits to smoking marijuana during college and early in his career, until failing an NFL drug test in his second season. The veteran of 11 seasons also admits to using now, though cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes in his home state of Michigan. In his experience, it helps manage pain.
However, Herremans also shed some light on perhaps an even more just reason for the NFL to allows its players to use marijuana. The alternative — pain killers, or opioids — have an addictive property that's spawned an entirely different and unique set of properties for athletes, namely addiction.
"It really is a sad topic," Herremans said. "One in seven NFL players leaves the league with some sort of struggle with opioids. That is a horrific stat. I have seen teammates scouring the locker room looking for anyone with an opiate they could take just to make them stop shaking and feel normal so they can go out and practice. I only had a couple experiences firsthand seeing this in the locker room, and it's because they were people I was close to, but it was enough to know that it's a league-wide issue."
Herremans also likened using opioids to relieve pain to "using a sledgehammer to drive a nail," adding that the drugs often leave people feeling "numb." Indeed, opioids are a growing problem in the U.S., not just among football players, so it seems odd the NFL would prefer that to mairjuana, which is gaining increasing acceptance across the country.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and Washington D.C., while opioid use has been labeled by some as a crisis or epidemic. It seems about time the league revise its policy, especially with the long-term health of its players becoming a hot-button issue that's debated in public forums in recent years.