We love and revere them. We put them on pedestals and hold them to incredible standards. No, I’m not talking about first responders or even the person who served you your coffee this morning. Rather I’m talking about sports figures. People that, in their day, were some of the most recognized in their athletic endeavors. Some of these names may ring clear and true like a Patrick Mahomes pass to Travis Kelce (shout out Feel State KC). Others may have been forgotten like a random Chicago Cubs game in late September.
Anyone that has done even a modicum of exercise can tell you that physical activity takes its toll. This despite the growing research that exercise stimulates the body’s natural production of endocannabinoids. Having played soccer from grades 2 through 12, both during the school year and summer seasons, I can tell you that now, decades later, my knees and feet ain’t the same. They occasionally ache and throb, but nothing like what I imagine professional athletes go through. The wear and tear a professional athlete’s body endures has even created a whole new category of care; sports medicine.
That’s why I always thought it unconscionable that athletes are not allowed to use cannabis. It has incredible therapeutic potential, yet athletes are forced to choose between a fist full of pills or taking the pain. That’s why it is no surprise athletes a-plenty have shunned the stigma in support of cannabis.
1. Nate Jackson - Former tight end for the Denver Broncos, Nate Jackson's career lasted six years before injuries forced him to retire. In a 2015 interview he said, “I feel like I exited the game with my mind intact. And I credit that to marijuana in a lot of ways and not getting hooked on these pain pills that are recklessly distributed in the league when a guy gets an injury.” In an op-ed he penned for the NY Times in 2014, Nate listed some of those injuries, “I broke my tibia, dislocated my shoulder, separated both shoulders, tore my groin off the bone once and my hamstring off the bone twice, broke fingers and ribs, tore my medial collateral ligament, suffered brain trauma, etc.” Nate is currently Vice President of Athletes for Care, an organization that advocates for the health, safety and wellbeing of more than 2 billion people of all ages who compete annually in sanctioned sports globally.
2. Riley Cote - Former hockey player for the Detroit Red Wings, Riley Cote spent his time on the ice making sure opposing players were well acquainted with the boards. Using your hips, elbows, and shoulders to drive someone not wearing the same sweater as you into a surface that only partially gives will eventually cause your body to break down. In an interview with the Philly Voice, Cote said, “I truly believe [cannabis] is medicine for all people. No one should be playing God and telling us who can and who can’t use it. Whether you’re an average person with chronic pain or someone going through cancer treatment or if you have M.S. or if you’re an athlete or a veteran, it doesn’t matter in my opinion. Everyone should have access to it. It’s a human right.” Cote is currently a board member alongside Nate Jackson, in Athletes for Care.
3. Kyle Turley - Former player for the New Orleans Saints, Turley played in the NFL for nine seasons. During that time he amassed over 100 concussions and an addiction to painkillers. Things got so bad that, “Suicidal and homicidal tendencies became a part of my daily living, in that I couldn’t be around a knife in my kitchen without having an urge to stab someone, including my wife and kids.” He said cannabis “cured him of vertigo, seizures, light sensitivity, pain and numbness in the feet and uncontrollable rage.” Turley now owns a cannabis dispensary in Moreno Valley, CA. However, in 2020 he was warned by the FDA to stop claiming CBD could cure coronavirus.
4. Jake Plummer - Former quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. “It could help you sleep, reduce anxiety, inflammation, and arthritis,” Plummer said. “Here we are talking about football players with inflammation, the onset of arthritis, with sleep issues, with anxiety, PTSD and all this crazy stuff, and here’s this natural plant that can help with all that.” Jake credits CBD with changing his life. “With the right amounts of CBD, which contains trace amounts of THC, I feel virtually pain free. The inflammation in my joints that stiffened up in the cold winter months was gone. The random headaches that would throb behind my eyes to the beat of my heart? Gone.”
5. Jim McMahon - Former Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Chicago Bears. You may have last heard Jim McMahon singing the Super Bowl Shuffle as your dad popped a cassingle into his Blaupunkt car stereo. McMahon and the Bears put a whoopin’ on the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Football also left him addicted to percocets, taking upwards of 100 a month just to function. In March, McMahon said, "I used [marijuana] throughout my whole career. I never failed a drug test. We always knew when our test was going to be. It was when you came to training camp. ... We'd stop June 1, give ourselves 45 days to clean out, and we'd be clean for our tests. And after that, the rules were that the only thing they could bust you for was steroids. ... I've been using since 1973. Now that I know it's great for me, that's why I continue with it."
6. Jay Williams - Former point guard for the Chicago Bulls. Current ESPN analyst, Jay Williams, estimates that 75%-80% of players in the NBA use cannabis, in addition to painkillers. “I know so many athletes that play on Percocet. Have you ever taken Percocet by the way? It makes you way more groggy than rubbing cannabis oil into your skin,” adds Williams. “It’s demonized in society too. Oh, he’s a pothead. No, I actually just use cannabis oil because it helps with inflammation and takes away some anxiety.”
7. Rhonda Rousey - Former UFC and WWE star hasn’t shared about any personal cannabis consumption, but she did come out swinging in defense of her friend and fellow MMA athlete, Nate Diaz, who had been handed a 5 year suspension by the Nevada Gaming commission for cannabis use. “"I’m sorry, but it’s so not right for him to be suspended five years for marijuana," Rousey said. "I’m against testing for weed at all. It’s not a performance enhancing drug. And it has nothing to do with competition. It’s only tested for political reasons.”
8. Bill Walton - Former center for the Portland Trailblazers/Boston Celtics. Bill Walton has been smoking weed for a long time. A long time. In an interview with the New York Times, Walton’s ex-wife Suzie said ex-UCLA coach, “Wooden let Bill smoke pot but not the other players.” There’s also a legend about Walton taking a rip off of a student’s bong right before he came back live on the air. While there may not be video of the alleged rip, Walton is no stranger to sharing his thoughts about cannabis, live on the air.
9. Steve Kerr - Kerr is the head coach of the NBA Golden State Warriors. He’s won five championships as a player and four as a coach. When California legalized adult use, Kerr spoke up. He said, "I do feel strongly that [marijuana] is a much better option than some of the prescription drugs, and I know that it's helping a lot of people, which is great. It's only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues, because the education will overwhelm the perception."
10. Ricky Williams - Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back. Ricky’s name has become synonymous with cannabis. “I retired to smoke weed,” Williams said while a member of the Miami Dolphins. “Well, that’s not all the way true. I retired to take better care of myself. One of those things that helped was cannabis.” Despite losing millions of dollars and more than a whole season because of failed drug tests, Williams decided to retire in the prime of his career. He recently launched his own cannabis company, Highsman, and collaborated on the chemovar Sticky Ricky. 100% of Sticky Ricky sales are going to Athletes for Care.