NFL's Marijuana Ban the "Correct Policy," Says Commissioner Roger Goodell

All but lost amid the hype in advance of Super Bowl 50, won by your Denver Broncos, were remarks by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the league's policy toward marijuana — an issue that arose during a Q&A in advance of the game that came complete with a reference to Colorado.

And while cannabis advocates have been arguing for years that the NFL should let players use marijuana medically, with a growing number making the same case for recreational use, Goodell gave no indication that internal rules and regs will shift anytime soon.

As seen in a video on view below, Goodell said that banning marijuana use is "an NFL policy, and we believe it's the correct policy."

We've written about marijuana and the NFL a number of times over the years.

In 2007, as we reported, Mason Tvert, the activist and founder of SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) helped coordinate the placement of a billboard near Mile High Stadium encouraging Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, who'd just reapplied for NFL reinstatement after a marijuana-related suspension, to sign with the Broncos.

Here's a look at Tvert speaking in front of the billboard.

Then, in September 2013, Tvert, who by then was the spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, held a press conference in advance of a game between the Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens — the first of the regular season.

The reason for the gathering: the introduction of another billboard — one calling for the league to amend its policy banning players from smoking pot.

The message maintained that marijuana use is safer than the consumption of alcohol.

Look below to see a photo of that billboard.

Then, last March, we profiled former Denver Bronco (and onetime Westword contributor) Nate Jackson about the medical benefits of marijuana for NFL players.

Jackson noted that current players are afraid to suggest that the league's approach to cannabis be changed because "there's such a stigma and judgement process by everyone around them." In his view, the average athlete fears he's "going to get punished, fined and his coach and owner will call him in, or they might just cut him. There's too much at stake for these guys and they know they're expendable," he said.

He added that the benefits of marijuana for players go beyond pain relief.

"It's an incredibly stressful environment," he maintained. "You're always being scrutinized. You're always being filmed. You have a bad day of practice, when you go home, you're going to dwell on it. Marijuana helps you deal with that environment."

Thus far, however, Goodell hasn't been receptive to such arguments — something that came through loud and clear at his recent press conference.

The first question on the topic came from Jeff Legwold, ESPN's Broncos beat writer and a former staffer for both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.

"Given that medical marijuana or recreational marijuana is legal in many states, including Colorado, do you foresee any adjustment to that policy or any review of that part of league drug policy?" Legwold asked.

“We always review our drug policy," Goodell replied. "That is something that our medical professionals do on a regular basis. We have had discussions with them in the past about that, not recently. They have opposed that. We are not restricted obviously by the state laws. It’s an NFL policy and we believe it’s the correct policy for now, in the best interest of our players and the long-term health of our players. I don’t foresee a change in that clearly in the short term, but we’ll continue to be in touch with our medical personnel. If that changes, we’ll discuss it.”

A few minutes later, Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated brought up the subject again.

"To be a bit more specific on the marijuana question," Farrar began, "you said two years ago at the summit with Jack Welch that if there was more research done for medical marijuana for players, you would consider approving it. There has been a lot of research in the last couple years. Players like Jim McMahon and Kyle Turley have talked about how it has helped them. Where does the league stand on the issue of medical marijuana for players and ex-players?"

“I don’t distinguish between the medical marijuana and marijuana issue in the context of my previous answer," Goodell said. "Our medical professionals look at that. That is exactly what we talked to them about. I would assume that it would be used in a medical circumstance or if it is even in recreational, our medical professionals look at it in both ways and determine whether they think it is in the best interest to do that. Yes, I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view. Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”

Sounds like folks such as Tvert and Jackson still have some more convincing to do.

Below, see a video of the news conference. The Legwold exchange begins at the 20:05 mark, while the Farrar question and answer gets underway at approximately 24:55.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts