By now most of Steeler Nation has undoubtedly learned that the black & gold will be without the services of our “star in the making” Martavis Bryant for apparently skipping drug tests with the presumption being that he would fail. Mr. Bryant, as we will recall, missed the first four games of the 2015 season due to cannabis use which is prohibited by the NFL. I have heard people call him a bad teammate, selfish, immature. I have heard “what a waste of talent” and “he could have been . . . ” I have also heard that Mr. Bryant is hardworking and humble, and in near constant pain from game days.
The NFL, like any employer, is free to set conditions of employment. If Mr. Bryant’s suspension is due to cannabis use the NFL is free to suspend him pursuant to the contract negotiated with the player’s union. Mr. Bryant is no different in this respect from the City sanitation worker, the fire-fighter or anyone else who takes a job knowing that clean urine screens are a condition of employment.
The NFL, however, is no ordinary employer. It makes millionaires out of young men. It demands they engage violent collisions on a weekly basis to entertain the legion of fans. We know that players suffer long term chronic and crippling pain for years. Chicago Bears Super Bowl winning QB Jim McMahon recently detailed his struggles with pain throughout his career and especially since retirement. Former Steelers CB Ryan Clark decried the practice of handing out prescription opioids in the training room with no consideration of the long term effects. Was Mr. Bryant opting for cannabis to treat pain instead of pharmaceuticals? I do not know and will not presume to speculate. I do know that our nation is in the midst of an opioid prescription drug abuse epidemic. One would think the NFL would be open to considering a non-toxic, natural treatment alternative for its most valued assets – its players.
Was Mr. Bryant selfish? Was he immature? Did he let his team and Steeler Nation down? Perhaps. But what he did he did to himself. He did not hurt anyone. He did not whip his child with a switch. He was not accused of raping a 19 year old in a bathroom stall. He was not charged with murder en route to the Hall of Fame. He did not knock his wife out cold in an elevator. He did not choke his girlfriend to unconsciousness before a baby shower. A significant percentage of the NFL market and a majority of its teams hail from states that have passed medical marijuana or full recreational marijuana. That the NFL continues to punish its players and, by extension, its fans over a simple plant is ridiculous.