High Country: Meet six former NFL players who’ve gotten into the cannabis game
With the 2019 regular season underway — the sixth since the onslaught of adult-use marijuana legalization — the National Football League is finally considering a shift on its substance policy stance. In May, the NFL and NFL Players Association formed joint medical committees to look into alternative therapies for pain and mental health management as well as promote wellness through researching the effects of both cannabis and CBD.
Under the new task force, NFL clubs are required to employ a Behavioral Health Team Clinician, ordered to be available to players at training facilities between 8 and 12 hours per week, conduct mandatory educational sessions for coaches and players and compose a Mental Health Emergency Action Plan.
In a 2016 survey of 226 of the NFL’s nearly 3,000 players on active rosters or practice squads, ESPN found that 61% believed that players would take fewer injections of strong anti-inflammatory drugs such as Toradol if they could treat pain legally with marijuana. In another study, ESPN reported that 71% of 644 NFL players surveyed misused opioids and that retired players are at risk for addiction at a rate more than four times that of the general population.
While marijuana remains on the NFL’s banned substance list (players are still suspended if they test positive for THC), a growing roster continues to come out of the cannabis closet, advocating for accepted use among athletes. Many retired players are even entering the space as investors or launching brands of their own.
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Meet six former NFL stars who are leading the charge for forward progress:
Calvin Johnson, Co-founder, Primitive
After retiring from the Detroit Lions in 2016, Calvin Johnson has found a new career in cannabis, co-founding a chain of medical dispensaries slated to open across Michigan with ex-NFL lineman and teammate Rob Sims. In a just-published interview with Sports Illustrated, Johnson says, “When I got to the league, (there) was opioid abuse. You really could go in the training room and get what you wanted. I can get Vicodin, I can get Oxy(contin). It was too available. I used Percocet and stuff like that. And I did not like the way that made me feel. I had my preferred choice of medicine. Cannabis.” He’s also taking his industry involvement higher, donating his own dollars to help Harvard University fund a study on treating CTE with cannabis; which stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative brain disease commonly diagnosed in NFL players.
Tiki Barber, Co-founder, Grove Group Management
After spending 10 years as a running back with the New York Giants, Barber retired in 2007, soon landing as a news anchor on NBC’s “Today” and launched a sports marketing firm. In 2018, he co-founded Vancouver-based investment firm Grove Group Management, focused on North American cannabis start-ups. As for his impetus for getting into the cannabis game? Helping the many athletes suffering from traumatic head injuries. Barber told CNN Business in an interview, “The more quickly we can get cannabis legalized federally, the better off athletes will be. (It’s a) matter of inevitability.”
Eugene Monroe, Diversity consultant, Green Thumb Industries
As the first-ever active NFL player to publicly share he consumes marijuana in 2016 — an act that caused the Baltimore Ravens to terminate his contract — Monroe’s voice has only gotten louder. He penned a trio of columns for The Cannabist about his mission to “get the NFL to accept cannabinoids as a viable option for pain management” and serves on the Board of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and HealthyUNow and is a supporter of the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Athletes for Care. Monroe cites overly present and overly prescribed opioids as the main factor in speaking out and in a Newsweek interview said, “Those are powerful drugs. Many people who take them get addicted. There’s no secret: It’s one of the deepest issues in our country right now.” Monroe joined Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (GTI) in 2016, where he consults on engaging diverse communities and research initiatives for the medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary company.
Joe Montana, Investor, Caliva
The legendary quarterback, who had a 15-year Hall of Fame career with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, first entered the industry in 2017 with a $4.1 million investment in Herb, a marijuana-focused news and entertainment media outlet. His venture capital firm’s latest move is a $75 million investment in the vertically integrated cannabis company Caliva. Based in San Jose, California, Caliva produces top-shelf cannabis flower and oil, manufactures ancillary products, operates a flagship dispensary and sells on-shelf at dispensaries throughout the state. “As an investor and supporter, it is my opinion that Caliva’s strong management team will successfully develop and bring to market-quality health and wellness products that can provide relief to many people and can make a serious impact on opioid use or addiction,” Montana said in a statement earlier this year.
Marvin Washington, VP of business development, Isodiol International Inc.
A longtime advocate for the medical use of marijuana, Marvin Washington, whose career spanned 11 years with the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, is the vice president of business development for global CBD leader Isodiol International, Inc. and brand ambassador for ISO-Sport. He was most recently appointed to the company’s board of directors and also serves on the board of Athletes for Care, a nonprofit organization dedicated to health and safety for athletes, which encourages the use of cannabis as medicine. Washington has been instrumental in sparking early discussions with the NFL Players Association for changes in the sport’s drug policies and also participated in a 2017 lawsuit filing against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which sought to overturn the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug.
Ricky Williams, Founder, Real Wellness
Forced to retire in 2004 after testing positive for marijuana, only to return and fail yet another drug test in 2005, Ricky Williams said goodbye to the game for good in 2011. Now a trained herbalist and healer, Williams launched Real Wellness in 2018, personally developing products in four formulas: Serenity, Optimize, Maintenance & Repair and Ricky’s Choice. The line can be found in Southern California dispensaries and includes RW smokes, vape cartridges, salves and tonics with its CBD-only products also available online. A dedicated student of ancient Indian medicine, yoga, massage, pranic healing, craniosacral therapy, Chinese medicine and astrology, Williams shared with Bloomberg, “The whole purpose of this for me is to help facilitate my public persona transitioning from being a former football player to being a healer. It’s been difficult for people to appreciate who I am as a healer because of the success I had as a football player.”
Katie Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.
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