NFL suspensions and fines have become a staple of each preseason and the 2015 NFL preseason was no different. A total of thirty-three players will begin the 2015 season suspended for violations prior to the start of the season. From personal conduct violations to PED use to substance abuse, a wealth of teams will be impacted by the league’s decisions to fine and suspend players. Further analysis of the thirty-three players expected to begin the season in shorts instead of pads reveals one commonality, marijuana use. In fact, of the 33 players suspended to start the season 20 were punished for violating the substance abuse policy with 13 of those directly related to marijuana; there are a few cases where the violation isn’t directly confirmed so that number could be even higher.
Three of the thirteen players are suspended for the entire 2015 season, all 16 games. Josh Gordon, Dion Jordan and Justin Blackmon are forbidden from participating in football related activities for a year after marijuana related suspensions. Jordan’s career has begun to take a turn towards ‘major bust’ after Miami shot up the draft board in 2013 to 3rd overall to draft Jordan yet he failed to produce on the field and is now seemingly failing off the field but Blackmon and Gordon provided ample evidence of their superstar potential before falling from good graces with the NFL front-office and eventually costing themselves career changing suspensions. Blackmon is expected to never return to the NFL and Gordon’s future is completely unknown. Jordan’s career seemed over before the major suspensions based on his on-field performance so the suspension could turn-out to be the deciding factor that leads to the ultimate end of his career.
Aside from the suspensions, including another four of the thirteen players serving multi-game suspensions, players have been served major fines. The three players missing the whole year have more than $1 million fines with players like Jerome Simpson, serving a 6 game suspension for marijuana-related arrests, having been fined just under $300k. Other prominent players missing time for marijuana-related violations include Pro-Bowl running-back Le’Veon Bell, Bell’s accomplice and former Steeler teammate LeGarrette Blount and potential break-out receiver Martavis Bryant.
So it would seem each year teams must spend their offseason hoping their players are staying clear of a substance three states have legalized recreationally and nineteen others have legalized for medical use. The NFL has banned the use of marijuana by its players despite two major NFL markets residing in states where the substance is recreationally legal, Seattle and Denver. Players on the Seahawks and Broncos live among legal, recreational marijuana use but must avoid its use for fear of major fine and potential career ending suspensions. But even if recreational use is frowned upon by the league, why hasn’t the substance’s medical benefits, including pain relief, been utilized by a league plagued with veterans and former players suffering from debilitating pain?
Justin Blackmon seems to be the most extreme case of marijuana-use negatively affecting a player. Blackmon was selected fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012. The Jaguars were rebuilding when they took a risk on the controversial yet productive Oklahoma State receiver. Blackmon started fourteen of the sixteen games his rookie season hauling in 64 receptions for 865 yards and 5 TDs. After a promising rookie campaign despite the lack of consistent QB play, analysts named Blackmon a potential breakout star in 2013 before his first suspension of 4 games to start the season. Blackmon returned from that suspension to the tune of 136 and 190 yards in his first two games before another major suspension for a failed drug test.
Blackmon went on to receive a third suspension and was denied reinstatement to the league in 2015 resulting in the presumption the player will never don an NFL jersey again. The Jaguars went on to draft Blake Bortles with the third pick in 2014 to become their feature QB but feel the pain of missing on a top-5 receiver who could have been a staple in the Jacksonville passing attack. The effects are bigger than just Blackmon; Bortles is predicted to finish in the bottom-four of starting QBs in terms of passing yards in 2015 according to the bookmakers with Gambling.com. So how can the use of a substance legal in many states including NFL markets lead to the end of a potential superstar’s career and major frustrations of a franchise yet something like sexual assault or use of actual substances improving players’ performance (PEDs) rarely lead to the end of careers?
The NFL recently received another ruling from a judge explaining the NFL has been too harsh on a suspension (Deflategate) and it would appear the ban of marijuana is moving down the line of changes to the NFL rules. It might take federal legalization of marijuana before the NFL wises-up and makes the change but the massive strides we’ve made as nation in terms of its legalization should give hope to those players who use marijuana to self-medicate or legally use for recreational purposes.
It’s frustrating to see such monumental strides the marijuana advocates have made yet its use can still impact a citizen so negatively.