From Ice Bowl to Pot Bowl

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert (right) wants NFL to allow conditional marijuana use.
Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert (right) wants NFL to allow conditional marijuana use. (AP)
Posted: February 02, 2014

It's not hard to imagine how that initial meeting of NFL bigwigs went a half decade ago when the initiative of having a New York-New Jersey Super Bowl was raised.

Bigwig No. 1: "I have an idea: Let's play the Super Bowl in that massive new stadium they're building across the river for the Jets and the Giants."

Bigwig No. 2: "The Super Bowl?"

Bigwig No. 1: "Yeah, the Super Bowl. The Big Game. This is New York, the No. 1 media market in the world. What better place to celebrate our season? It will be cool."

Bigwig No. 2: "It will be frigid, that's what it will be. You must be stoned."

Here we are on Super Bowl Eve, and, after a week of bone-chilling cold and a dusting of snow, the forecast for Sunday's game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks is cloudy with a high around the mid-40s. Commissioner Roger Goodell was so confident Friday that his league was going to skirt a potential weather disaster that he cued some faux snow to offer some levity at the start of his annual state-of-the-league news conference.

Lots of people laughed and Goodell was predictably asked, among other things, about possible cold-weather Super Bowls in other cities. Interviewed afterward on the NFL Network, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie sounded like a man who sure thinks it would be a swell idea to have a Super Bowl in Philadelphia one of these years. Anything is possible now, especially if the weather is a non-factor in Sunday's outcome between the two best teams in the league.

But even as the weather issue dissipated, another storm brewed - perhaps billowed is more appropriate - on the NFL horizon. Instead of the Ice Bowl, this has become the Pot Bowl, which is why it's so fitting that the two states – Colorado and Washington - in which recreational marijuana use has been legalized are representing the league in the championship game.

Everyone from Goodell to the two head coaches of the Broncos and Seahawks fielded marijuana questions in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Denver coach John Fox seemed much more comfortable talking about his in-season heart surgery and Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the league owes it to the players to research the use of medicinal marijuana.

Goodell handled another cannabis question Friday when he was asked if it was time for the league to stop testing players for marijuana use. He was also asked if he'd be willing to submit to random tests for marijuana use, which was actually funnier than his snow gag.

"I am randomly tested and I'm happy to say I'm clean," Goodell said. "The second issue is that this has been asked several times and I'll try to be clear as I possibly can. It is still an illegal substance on a national basis. It's something that is part of our collective bargaining agreement with our players. It is questionable with respect to the positive impact, but there is certainly some very strong evidence to the negative impacts, including addiction and other issues.

"So we'll continue to follow the medicine. Our experts right now are not indicating that we should change our policy in any way. We are not actively considering that at this point in time. But down the road some time that is something we would never take off the table if it could benefit our players at the end of the day."

The jokes about tokes have been flying around all week, but the marijuana issue is a serious one to a lot of people. On five billboards near MetLife Stadium, the Marijuana Policy Project questioned the league's ban of pot use and claimed it was safer than alcohol and football.

Brandon Browner, a starter at cornerback for the Seahawks, will not be in attendance Sunday because he was suspended indefinitely in November after testing positive for marijuana. The league, according to a USA Today Sports story, considered it his third failed test and may ban him for life even though Browner was charged with a second failed test only because he did not take one while he was playing for Calgary in the Canadian Football League from 2007-10.

That doesn't seem fair, especially when you consider that Browner may have smoked the marijuana in a place where it is perfectly legal to do so. There are plenty of arguments and studies that show marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and nobody other than the Adolph Coors Co. considered Peyton Manning out of line when he said "what's weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth," following Denver's playoff win over San Diego. 

The bigger issue for Goodell and the NFL is that medical studies have surfaced indicating marijuana use can be helpful for people with traumatic brain injuries. Given the nature of the game, the NFL is always going to be among the professional sports leaders in that department, so this issue isn't going away at any point in the near future.

Goodell opened his news conference Friday by saying it seemed radical in the late 1960s when his hero, the late Pete Rozelle, suggested that a championship game - the Super Bowl - be played at a neutral site under optimal conditions. He said he believed Rozelle would be proud of the chance the league took on this Super Bowl in a cold-weather climate. He later talked about the coming changes of expanded playoffs and a new format for replays.

His message was loud and clear: Change is good as long as the league thinks it is good.

Whether the commissioner thinks it is good or not, change is coming on the marijuana issue, too. One of these years the NFL will have an official medical marijuana sponsor and they'll be all in favor of it.


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