There has been a major shift in the public perception of marijuana over the past decade, and that change in mentality may finally be hitting the world of sports.
Nationwide support for legalization is at an all-time high and lawmakers are starting to see the immense benefits of reform. As cannabis becomes more accepted culturally, it will continue to permeate all aspects of our society, including economics, entertainment, and even athletics.
We’ve already seen a transformation in media, with movies and shows like HBO’s “High Maintenance” beginning to depict an increasing amount of “real world” marijuana users rather than the prototypical “stoner” from Hollyweed-past.
Another huge source of entertainment in the United States is professional sports, the sector that may be able to use the help of cannabis most. Between the changing laws where many players call home and the rampant issues professional sports leagues face with opiate painkillers, marijuana could offer a beacon of hope to many players seeking an alternative and viable solution.
Many athletic organizations around the world are taking another look at cannabis and reevaluating their stance as more research is conducted. The World Doping Agency, who governs the drug testing for all Olympic athletes, has become more flexible with athletes who choose to use marijuana, opting to drastically lower their threshold for a positive text and only screen athletes during times of competition.
Other organizations like the NFL and the Nevada State Athletic Commission are exploring their options as well, as many athletes have become vocal about their displeasure with opiate-based treatment and their desire to have freedom of choice when it comes to their bodies.
On Michael Rapaport’s podcast last Friday, former NBA star Stephen Jackson went as far as saying he used to light up before games.
“I just gotta be real, you know, it’s been a couple games where I smoked before games and had great games,” the 14-year veteran told Rapaport.
Apparently, Jackson wasn’t the only player partaking, and at least one prominent coach knew about the alternative pain-relief regimen. The former NBA champion went on to add that Hall of Famer Don Nelson, Jackson’s coach while playing with the Golden State Warriors, hilariously approached the subject one time after a team drug screening.
“We’re in Utah, and the [league’s] drug test people are around, you know, to get our last drug test so we can smoke, right? Don Nelson, we talked about weed all the time. He was cool with talking about weed. We got our last test in Utah, right? So me and [teammate]Baron [Davis] are coming out the locker room just screaming, excited with our last pink slip saying we could smoke for the rest of the season, and Don Nelson hauls ass down there giving us high-fives, like, ‘Yeah, we can smoke now!'” Jackson remembered. “It was cool, the fact that he knows what’s going on off the court with his players, which was great, man. We enjoyed it. That’s why we were a great team.”
Coach Nelson is far from the lone NBA coach or executive to speak out about the issue or marijuana, as Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr have both made cases for revisiting the league’s approach to cannabis recently.
Marketing and public perception are essential forms of currency for these leagues, as they must sell television commercials, tickets and merchandise to stay in the black, so it is understandable why they have been hesitant to embrace marijuana culture for fear of alienating their fanbase.
But is that fear of backlash still valid?
According to a new study from PRRI, it’s at least moving in the right direction.
According to the polling, 54% of Americans think a professional athlete should be allowed to use marijuana without punishment from the respective league, so long as it is legal in the player’s home state. Only 43% disagree and believe that pro athletes should be prohibited from using cannabis regardless of the legality in their state.
Not surprisingly, the numbers change fairly significantly when you drill the data down by age demographic. About 65% of seniors responded that athletes should be banned from using marijuana regardless of legality, while only 35% of respondents under the age of 30 agreed with that same statement. So it seems athletes, just like marijuana advocates across the country, must wait for a new generation of voters (and fans) to incite the reform they seek.
Cover Image Courtesy of Yogma/Flickr