Roger Goodell Says NFL Would Consider Allowing Medical Marijuana for Concussions

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell continues to suggest medical marijuana could eventually be considered legal treatment for the league's players, including those dealing with concussions.

Updates from Tuesday, March 4

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reports that a Harvard professor believes the NFL should be funding medical marijuana studies:

“The extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment,” Dr. Lester Grinspoon wrote in an open letter to Goodell, via  “[I]t’s highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company will get involved in studying cannabis as a treatment for CTE, because the plant [and its natural components] can’t be patented.”

“Given the severity of the problem . . . I think you, and the NFL, must go beyond simply following the medicine, and help lead the way by directly funding research to determine if cannabis . . . can indeed provide significant protection against the damage of repetitive concussions,” Grinspoon wrote to Goodell.

Updates From Friday, Jan. 31

According to Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports, Goodell doesn't see the NFL's policy on marijuana changing anytime soon:

This has been something that has been asked several times and I'll try to be as clear as I possibly can: It is still an illegal substance on a national basis," Goodell said. "It's something that's part of our collective bargaining agreement with our players. It's questionable with respect to the positive impact but there is certainly some very strong evidence to the negative impacts, including addiction and other issues.

"We'll continue to follow the medicine," he continued. "Our experts right now are not indicating we should change our policy in any way, we are not actively considering that at this point and time. But if it does down the road some time, that's something we would never take off the table if we could benefit our players at the end of the day.

"So I don't see any change in the near future."

Goodell was also asked if he would be willing to be randomly tested for marijuana.

"I am randomly tested," he responded, "and I am happy to say that I am clean."

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Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal reports Goodell wants to see more information based on testing from medical experts before making a decision about medical marijuana, but he definitely isn't eliminating it as a potential option:

The stance is in line with what the commissioner talked about in early January. Jane McManus of ESPN New York passed along his comments about finding ways to help players deal with pain while staying within league rules:

Goodell said he could envision a time when players use medical marijuana to treat pain in states where it is legal: "I don't know what's going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries," Goodell said, "but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine."

Goodell also stressed that the league isn't close to allowing it and that their medical staff is not endorsing its use (via Chris Strauss of USA Today):

"I'm not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that," Goodell said. "Our medical experts are not saying that right now."

Marijuana has been a popular talking point ahead of the Super Bowl because the two teams, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, come from states where voters decided to legalize it recreationally.

HBO's 'Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel' added fuel to the blaze on Tuesday when it revealed a study that claimed 50 to 60 percent of the NFL's players regularly use marijuana. 

In an effort to sway public opinion, Terry Blount of ESPN noted, "The National Organization to the Reform of Marijuana Laws is using this game as a message to the NFL to stop promoting alcohol and beer commercials as the safe choice over smoking weed."

Looking ahead, it's probably going to take some time before there's enough testing available for Goodell and NFL officials to seriously consider allowing the use of medical marijuana. As mentioned, he's looking for more information on the direct impact on the treatment of concussions.

With head injuries being a major issue for the NFL, the commissioner is simply keeping as many possible remedies available as he can pending further testing. Caring for concussions and concussion-like symptoms will remain a key point of discussion for the league.

If it turns out the evidence from doctors shows medical marijuana would help, the NFL would have no choice but to further consider it. A change of approach doesn't sound imminent, though.