The National Football League Players Association announced on Nov. 9 it will study the effects of marijuana as a pain-management tool with players in search of league-approved alternatives to opioid-based painkillers.
According to the Washington Post's Mark Maske, "The union is forming an NFL players pain-management committee that will study players’ use of marijuana as a pain-management mechanism, among other things, though the union has not yet determined if an adjustment to the sport’s ban on marijuana use is warranted."
Marijuana is banned in the NFL, but NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah said Wednesday the union's hope is to learn more about how marijuana stands up as a pain-relief tool, per Maske:
Marijuana is still governed by our collective bargaining agreement. And while some states have moved in a more progressive direction, that fact still remains.
We are actively looking at the issue of pain management of our players. And studying marijuana as a substance under that context is the direction we are focused on.
Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported on Nov. 10 that several owners privately support the use of marijuana for pain management:
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"Based on conversations with 10 NFL team owners and executives over the past few months, marijuana usage could emerge as a key issue when the collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated over the next few years. The team sources spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the subject," NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday. Rapoport added:
Each of the owners support additional study and discussion regarding what the league's stance should be on medical and recreational pot use for players. The majority of the sample size supports a "decriminalization" of marijuana that would make it more difficult for players to be suspended. Two of the principals involved in the issue said they are open to getting rid of marijuana-related suspensions and only issuing fines. Two others said they are worried about sending the message that drug use is tolerated and believe suspensions must remain.
While there is a consensus to being open to change, there's no consensus on what should be done.
The NFLPA's announcement comes a day after California, Massachusetts and Nevada passed recreational marijuana measures on Election Day, according to the Associated Press' Paul Elias.
Several former NFL players have been outspoken about the league's need to explore new pain-management alternatives, including ex-Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe.
At the time of his retirement in July, Monroe said the sheer physicality of the game took a toll on his body, forcing him to call it quits. Furthermore, Monroe called on the NFL to explore the positive effects of marijuana compared to those of painkillers.
"I've had conversations with my teammates and have been in conversations with players, and at the very least, they believe more research is needed to find a better option," Monroe said, according to the New York Times' Ken Belson.
However, a lengthy June 2015 report from Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman revealed owners aren't keen on making marijuana a league-approved painkilling substance.
"Most owners view marijuana as a destructive drug," one owner told him. "Many of us are behind the times when it comes to marijuana."
That may still be the case, but if the NFLPA has any say, lines of dialogue will at least be opened as it seeks to make the game safer for players.