Blog Post

Marvin Washington Connects the Dots: Marijuana, Athletes, Activism, NFL Protests & Drug War Policing

Derek Rosenfeld

DPA’s podcast Drugs & Stuff is back with a timely new episode. This week we sat down with Marvin Washington, former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, to talk about the war on drugs, marijuana policies in sports, socially conscious athletes, and this past week’s display of solidarity across the NFL in response to Donald Trump’s comments calling players who kneel during the national anthem “sons of bitches.”

This piece from 2015 penned by Washington and two other Super Bowl champs, “The NFL Needs to Rethink Marijuana,” was the beginning of a more serious discussion re: the NFL’s backward marijuana policy.

One of Marvin’s biggest concerns is CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – which is a brain disease that develops from repeated head traumas (like concussions). The recent results showing that Aaron Hernandez had developed Stage 3 CTE, and that his brain “had deteriorated enough that it was on par with 67-year-old brain trauma patients,” did not surprise Marvin. In fact, he says he called it when Hernandez was arrested for murder a few years ago. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who first discovered CTE and was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie Concussion, was also not surprised.

Marijuana may be able to help prevent CTE, and as Marvin says, if there is one sport that should be experimenting with marijuana and its ability to help treat the health of the league’s players, it’s the NFL.

The biggest story in the news this last week that we also talked about with Marvin was Trump’s comments on the movement started by Colin Kaepernick last year when he took a knee during the national anthem to protest the way people of color, particularly black people, are treated by police in the United States. The violent policing in communities of color and the militarization of police are rooted in the war on drugs. You can read on our website in more detail about recent times marijuana or other drugs have been used to justify police killings in the cases of Sandra Bland, Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, and Philando Castile. Marijuana use was also used to justify killing Trayvon Martin.

I am encouraged by the progress made in the last couple years fighting to change the NFL’s marijuana policy, and I think the dialogue started by Kaepernick’s protest is necessary. I wish more athletes could see how the war on drugs affects us all – on and off the field.

You can listen to the episode here.

Derek Rosenfeld is the manager of social media and media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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