By Travis Politakis

For years recreational drugs and sports were thought to be completely separate. With drug tests and the responsibility that athletes have to provide a strong influence for kids, many stayed away from recreational drugs. Some players would even be shamed and disciplined if they were caught using recreational drugs like marijuana. National Football League (NFL) wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended four times by the league for smoking marijuana, and was ultimately, suspended indefinitely in 2019 after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a fifth time. Former NFL running back Ricky Williams retired from football early so he could smoke marijuana and started his own cannabis company. 

However, more recently in sports the stereotype around recreational drugs is starting to change as retired players are coming forward and talking about their uses of drugs within sports. Playing professional sports comes with a great deal of pressure. Playing in front of thousands of fans every night who are expecting you to perform at a high level every play so you can earn a contract is something many people will never experience. The pressure, fast life, and constantly being held to a higher standard brings an immense amount of pressure on a person. 

On a podcast called “All the smoke”, a roundtable of former National Basketball Association (NBA) players including Matt Barnes, Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, and Cuttino Mobley all came forward and recalled their experiences using marijuana during their playing careers. 

“One game we were playing Indiana and I had a hamstring injury and was expecting not to play,” said Martin. “I smoked and once we got to the arena I was feeling good and was able to play and had a great game.” Martin played 15 seasons in the NBA, most famous for his time with the Denver Nuggets and was a number one overall pick in the 2000 draft. 

“I smoked before every game my whole life basically,” said Matt Barnes. “From high school, to college, all the way into the pros. We would have shoot around. I would go home, smoke a joint, take a nap, wake up, take a shower – shower was important because it woke me back up – eat, and go to the game. All my best games, I was medicated.” 

Matt Barnes was a well-respected NBA veteran in the 2000s, playing a total of 14 seasons, having stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, and ultimately winning an NBA Championship in 2017. Barnes gave an interesting testimony as to the pressures of NBA life and how cannabis helped calm him down. 

“My whole life is literally on TV,” said Barnes. “My mom dies and I have to play a game the next day. I got divorced after my ex-wife was with a former teammate. These are a lot of things that would break normal people. But I’m sitting back smoking a joint able to laugh at life and calm myself down. It kept me sane.”

The players talked about how they think a large number of players within the NBA smoke marijuana and how it goes beyond just the players. “It goes deeper than what you think. Coaches, players, GM’s, trainers,” said Barnes. “Some of the people cracking whips and suspending us are smoking [marijuana].” 

The roundtable also discussed how marijuana was not only beneficial for calming themselves down before games, but also for healing properties. The NBA is an eight month, 82 game marathon, with teams traveling all across the country and often playing on back to back nights. It is grueling on one’s body. 

Kenyon Martin was the first NBA player to ever come back and play after having two microfracture surgeries on each knee. Martin attributed that and being able to walk around “in no pain” to his consistent use of cannabis.  

The players are optimistic about the future of cannabis in the NBA and think that very soon the league will allow cannabis products like CBD, even as soon as within the next three to five years. 

Barriers are starting to be knocked down and former players such as Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson are advocating for the acceptance of marijuana use in the NBA. Harrington did a sit down meeting with former NBA commissioner David Stern in 2018 and talked about the positive uses of cannabis such as the healing properties it provides. 

Current NBA superstars are even coming out and talking about the positives that cannabis provides. Brooklyn Nets superstar and two time NBA champion Kevin Durant came forward in an interview with Matt Barnes to share his thoughts on cannabis in the NBA. “Marijuana is marijuana. It’s not harmful to anyone. It can only help and enhance and do good things. I feel like it shouldn’t even be a huge topic anymore,” said Durant. 

Despite the historical stereotype that using recreational drugs like marijuana in sports comes with, times are changing and more players are coming forward to express the good that it can bring. Cannabis products can help calm players down in their chaotic life and can bring healing properties that have never been seen before.

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