NFL stars who smoked marijuana: is it legal?
American football has a complicated relationship with cannabis and Le’Veon Bell has become the latest player to reveal that he smokes weed.
Cannabis use in professional sport has become a contentious issue in recent years as states loosen restrictions for both recreational and medicinal purposes.
Most professional sports bodies in the United States still impose a ban on marijuana for its athletes but more and more players are revealing that they partake in the plant. The latest to do so is free agent running back Le’Veon Bell, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets.
“Looking back on this, that’s what I did,” Bell said on Steelers-focused NFL podcast ‘Steel Here’. “When I was playing football, I smoked, bro. Even before the games, I’d smoke and I’d go out there and run for 150, two [touchdowns].”
What are the rules on marijuana use in NFL?
Marijuana is still considered a banned substance in NFL but the league’s policy has become much more lenient in recent years.
In 2021 the NFL Players Association changed the testing requirements to ensure that players are only required to test for marijuana at the start of training camp, once a year.
Even if players fail that annual test they will only be subject to a fine of up to three weeks’ pay, rather than a suspension.
In addition to lighter punishments the threshold for a positive test has also been raised substantially. In the past 35 nanograms was enough to trigger a positive, the threshold has now been risen to 150 nanograms.
Which NFL players used marijuana?
The softening of marijuana rules was a key concession that the Players Association pushed for in 2021, highlighting the number of players who consume the plant. Cannabis use in the NFL is no longer a secret but in the past it presented a major risk to players’ career.
Ricky Williams was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002 with the hopes of becoming the face of the franchise. The Heisman Trophy winner was the NFL Rushing Yards Leader in 2002 and looked set for a glittering career, but at the age of 27 he announced his retirement from the support.
Williams retired after failing multiple marijuana tests and has since revealed that the intense testing program was a reason for his shock retirement. He now has his own business selling cannabis products, Highsman, and believes that its use is commonplace in the league.
“These days, at least 80 percent of NFL players smoke weed,” Williams said. “I don’t think they’re smoking before games – I think there might be one or two guys on the team. But especially this day and age, it’s everywhere, it’s so easy.
One former player who did engage in a pre-game smoke is Shaun Smith, former defensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith was asked by Bleacher Report if he ever played while high and his response was unequivocal.
“Yeah, I had a little ritual: Smoke two blunts before every game,” Smith replied. “When I smoke, I can focus and actually do the job that I have to do and tasks. It’s like I’m in the zone.”
A more recent retiree, Martellus Bennett, agreed with Williams’ claim that around 80% of the NFL smokes marijuana. Bennett believes that marijuana is often seen as a more ‘natural’ alternative to the pain relief pills that many professional athletes rely on.
“There’s times of the year where your body just hurts so bad that you don’t want to just be popping pills all the time,” he said on Bleacher Report’s Simms & Lefkoe Podcast. “There’s a lot of these anti-inflammatories that you take for so long that, like, it starts to eat at your liver or kidneys and things like that. And a human made that. God made weed.”