In case you haven’t heard, Megatron smoked weed throughout his career to helping heal from injuries. As revealed in a post-career expose with Sports Illustrated this past Friday, former Detroit Lions wide receiver great, Calvin Johnson, admitted that he smoked weed after “every game.”
Although 6’5, 237-pounds, and nick-named after a transformer, the 6-time Pro Bowler also took a beating while in the NFL. In the S.I. cover story, Calvin Johnson Doesn’t Regret a Thing, it’s revealed that Calvin suffered an ankle, foot and knee injury all in one year, including fracturing a finger to a permanent 90-degree angle.
Calvin Johnson's fingers are the new Booger McFarland's fingers pic.twitter.com/mPAXEF3yiv
— 12up (@12upSport) September 21, 2019
It was the lack of support from Lions’ medical staff and disregard of his well-being that ultimately led to both he smoking weed and retiring at 30 — in his prime.
“It’s not about the welfare of the players,” Johnson tells S.I., “It’s just about having that product.”
That cut-throat business-minded mentality Calvin was speaking of was confirmed when the Lions asked he pay back his bonus when he announced his retirement.
With all that he sacrificed for the franchise? Suffering a reported nine concussions in his NFL career? One for every season? You’d think that the least the franchise could do is allow him to keep his bonus. But that wasn’t the case.
Additionally, Johnson claims the Lions pressured him to change his story about a 2012 concussion suffered against the Vikings.
“I knew I was concussed because I blacked out. I wasn’t seeing straight. And they wanted me to change my story,” Johnson said.
The true takeaway from the S.I. piece however twofold: 1) Johnson’s decision to self-medicate worked; and 2) Johnson’s decision to self-medicate was “against the rules.”
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If you look at players like Ricky Williams and Josh Gordon — two very special athletes who repeatedly found themselves caught in the crosshairs of the NFL substance abuse program — you’ll see players that didn’t perform badly at all.
Yet they also had careers that were altered because they sought alternatives to the pain killers and opioids that are currently claiming the lives of millions of Americans.
The active Collective Bargaining Agreement — which was negotiated by the owners and the players in 2011 — still tests players for marijuana and disciplines them for positive tests, oftentimes to the same penalty of domestic violence and cheating offenders.
And while a 2014 amendment to testing made it so players no longer faced suspensions for marijuana until their fourth positive test (as opposed to two positive tests for other recreational drugs), players who want to smoke during the offseason or use the compound as pain derivative are left without luck.
Lately, however, thanks to marijuana’s nationwide acceptance, sweeping decriminalization and proven medical benefits, the NFL has been softening its stance.
This past May, the NFL and NFL Players’ Association agreed to study marijuana as a means for pain management and will require that every team appoint a “pain management specialist” and “behavioral health team clinician.”
"I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down. And I didn't like it," Retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski fights back tears talking about football and how #CBD products have helped him heal and live pain-free. pic.twitter.com/6IlLodaF4N
— Anaridis Rodriguez (@Anaridis) August 27, 2019
The revision raised the threshold required to test positive for marijuana from 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter to 35 nanograms (in comparison, Major League Baseball uses a threshold of 50 nanograms and the World Anti-Doping Agency uses a threshold of 150 nanograms), addressing player concerns for invoking a positive test due to second-hand smoke.
While the NFL becoming the first North American sports league to stop marijuana testing may not be in the foreseeable future, the hope is that they adopt something similar to the NHL’s drug policy, which tests for marijuana, but as a means to monitor abuse, not punish. The NHL also doesn’t villainize their athletes for non-violent decisions they make off-field.
After the NFL’s agreement to consider marijuana as a pain alternative in May retired Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long came out and admitted smoking while playing as well as hinting that a good majority of the players still do today till this day.
“I’m not a dry snitch, I’m not going to put a percentage on how much the league smokes, but I certainly enjoyed my fair share on a regular basis through my career,” Long told Dan Patrick Show. Calvin Johnson’s revelation is merely a truth that hadn’t been discovered yet.
Now that 22 states have a legal avenue for patients to access medical cannabis products, the likelihood of athletes smoking is more common than ever and the leagues will have to adjust. At this point, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Not for nothing, Calvin Johnson highlights are that much sweeter knowing he blew one down after toasting a team for 200-plus yards.