The incoming NFL Rookie class is high on talent; and apparently high on marijuana too. According to Sports Illustrated, NFL personnel are voicing their concerns about an enormous spike in failed marijuana tests amongst the incoming NFL players (click here). After interviewing four NFL coaches, four general managers, and two personnel executives, it was estimated that 1/3 of incoming rookies had tested positive for marijuana use in college or had been convicted of a marijuana offense.
“Marijuana use is almost epidemic, with more guys having tested positive for marijuana at some point in their college background than I can ever remember,” said a NFL personnel employee that wished to remain anonymous. “It’s almost as if we are having to figure out a new way to evaluate it as part of the character and background report, because it’s so prevalent. There’re enough instances of it that it’s hard to know how to set your board. You can’t throw out that many guys. You have to go case-by-case and do your homework on them.”
“It’s something that’s concerning to all coaches and general managers in this league,” said one veteran NFL head coach. ”It has been trending the wrong way in recent years. But it’s something that has to be dealt with from on high, at the league level, and not just dealt with on a club by club basis. It’s partly a societal issue, but it’s something we’re having to deal with more and more.”
But not all players are drawing suspicion for failed tests or legal prosecution; they are being watched because they told the truth about their marijuana use. “The kids are admitting it much more now, and part of that is what they’ve been coached to do [by their agents or handlers],” one general manager said. “They want to get the truth out and give you an explanation for their use. That’s seen as better than letting someone else put it out there for you and making you look like you were being evasive. But we’ve had that same conversation internally on our club: ‘Wow, there’s a lot of kids this year.’ It seems much more common now, across the draft.”
One coach feels that the estimate of 1/3 is overblown. But still, he recognizes that there is a growing trend. “It’s pretty significant as a trend,” the head coach said. “But if you knocked everyone off your board who has experimented with weed, you’d lose about 20 percent of your board, not to mention disqualify a few recent presidents. A third sounds a little high to me, but it’s not a rare occurrence to have a player with some pot use in his background. You have to make a judgment on each individual guy.”
Another coach seemed to have a good perspective on the issue, even though it was obvious he doesn’t smoke marijuana. He said, “It’s a matter of figuring out which ones smoke, and which ones have to smoke, because they really are addicted. It’s like the drinking issue. You want to know if a guy drinks, or if he has a drinking problem. You’re trying to find out and make that distinction with some guys.”
One NFL general manager explained why the NFL is more tolerable than in years past. “Overall in the league there’s a bit of a different generation of decision-makers and people doing the evaluating. Even among those of us who didn’t smoke pot, we had some friends who did and we didn’t judge them that harshly. So for some, it’s a less damaging red flag for a player to have that on his record.”
My favorite quote from the article was from a head coach. “I know of one guy who told me he smoked with his mom. It was just something they did together.” That sounds like most of the people I know! Hopefully with NFL players consuming marijuana, they will be less likely to roid rage off the field.