This Sunday afternoon, Seattle will quietly become a ghost town. For a few hours, the city's attention will be transfixed on dozens of massive men repeatedly colliding with each other.
After a few hours of brutal violence, one team will win, Seahawks fans will turn off their televisions, and the players will limp off the field and into the care of NFL trainers, who will hand out prescription painkillers. A recent federal lawsuit alleges that NFL teams violate laws in the way they dispense painkillers, though the NFL denies that.
The dangers of both the injuries and the drugs prescribed to treat them are well documented—a recent study found that out of 111 former NFL players, 110 had signs of a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and NFL players have been found to abuse opioids at four times the national average—but the NFL bans what many players say is one of the best tools in mitigating the health effects of playing football.
That tool is pot. It can be useful in fighting the effects of injuries and it's legal in our state, but the National Football League's policies prevent football players from using any of it.
So even though there are a dozen pot stores within a mile of CenturyLink Field, no Seahawk can manage his pain by using pot. That's a travesty that should be changed. Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder and owner of the Seahawks, didn't return a request for comment for this story. I would have asked him if he thought his right to smoke pot should be extended to the men destroying their bodies every Sunday for his team.
But while I couldn't find a billionaire to talk to, I did speak with Eben Britton, a former NFL offensive lineman who spent six years getting beat up in the league. After a couple years of being on the NFL's steady routine of powerful anti-inflammatory and opioid drugs, he started to mix in some cannabis and immediately saw its benefits.
"I was tired of taking pills; they really depleted me. I tried some cannabis, and I felt as though it did what I wanted the pills to do, which was make me feel at home in a body in pain, help me feel my feet on the ground, connect me into my nervous system, and enable to me to produce at a really high level," Britton said.
Britton isn't the only NFL player to advocate for allowing players to use cannabis. Their message is starting to have an effect on the league. Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, told the Washington Post that it was "really important" for the league to study if cannabis could be used as an effective pain-management tool.
The NFL players' union has reportedly been studying how cannabis can help its members, and the Washington Post reported in July that the NFL itself has reached out to study the issue together with the union. And at least one of the league's owners has said that players should be allowed to use cannabis.
The players' union is starting to negotiate a new contract with the league's owners—the current contract is up in 2020—and many people think removing cannabis from the list of banned substances might be worked into the new deal. Britton thinks it won't be too long before the league relaxes its ban on pot.
"I think they've got to do something in the next few years to show that they actually give a shit about the players," Britton said.
This is not a first-world problem of a professional football player not being able to smoke pot. These people deal with the effects of playing football long after you turn off your television this Sunday.
"I think a lot of fans probably think that most guys just retire on an island somewhere, with mountains of money and everything they've ever dreamed of," Britton said. "In most cases, the opposite is true. A lot of guys are really struggling, are really in a bad state financially and psychologically."
Pot won't cure all of the damage from playing professional football, but allowing players to use it without fear of suspension would help.