Pro Sports Leagues Support Systemic Racism By Prohibiting Cannabis


A big push is underway to reform cannabis policies in professional sports. Virtually every professional sports league prohibits cannabis, even though cannabis has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. Alcohol of course is widely embraced by professional sports leagues. I’m not trying to throw alcohol under the bus, as I think it’s a perfectly fine substance of choice if people consume it responsibly.

What athletes like retired National Basketball Association (NBA) player Cliff Robinson and retired National Football League (NFL) player Eugene Monroe are asking is why prohibit one but so widely embrace the other? If athletes can drink responsibly, why can’t they consume cannabis responsibly too? Especially considering the fact that cannabis possesses so many medically beneficial qualities.

I’ve never heard of consuming alcohol for medical purposes, but the cannabis plant has the proven power to treat all types of conditions that afflict athletes, from chronic pain to concussions. That’s why so many retired professional athletes are pushing for leagues to remove cannabis form banned substances lists. Players like former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher David Wells speak out now because they have experienced the benefits of cannabis in retirement, and wish they had access to cannabis during their playing careers. Per The Post Game:

“I wish I knew about it back when I played because I would’ve been all over it,” Wells told ThePostGame’s David Katz in an exclusive interview. “I would’ve took those risks. If they tested me — ‘hey, you got marijuana in your system’ — I’ll bring it to them: This is what it is. Dissect it. Take it in a lab and see what it’s about.” – David Wells

It is a proven fact that cannabis has the ability to help curb opioid addiction, which is a major problem facing every professional sports league right now. The medical benefits of cannabis are undeniable, and as such, most of the focus on ending cannabis prohibition in professional sports has been directed towards the medical and wellness side of the equation and rightfully so. But the conversation is not complete without also talking about the social justice side of the equation, which is just as important, especially for people of color.

Professional sports leagues that prohibit cannabis use by their athletes usually take a hard stance against those that are caught up in the criminal justice system via a cannabis offense. In doing so, leagues are supporting and perpetuating systemic racism. Racism in the criminal justice system is a very hot topic in the NFL right now, as well as in the general public largely brought to the forefront by current NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

It’s a big topic in the NBA too. Last summer current NBA players LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwayne Wade made headlines when they opened the ESPY’s (largest professional sports award show on the planet) with a passionate call for social change. It was one of the most powerful moments in sports history, as four of the biggest names in pro sports took fellow athletes (and themselves) to task for not doing more to push for social change and to fight racism. Below is a clip of the video from ABC News, and the entire transcript of their speech can be found at this link here.

The conversation in professional sports surrounding race and social justice is not new. Seventy years ago Jackie Robinson made history by becoming the first African American player in Major League Baseball. Seven decades have gone by and while a lot has been accomplished, a lot more work is still left to be done, which I think is at the heart of point that the players were making at the ESPY’s.

Racism can be overt, but it can also by systemic and subtle. Systemic racism occurs when racism gets built into levels of a society. An example that most people are familiar with is voter suppression. But systemic racism manifests itself in many forms, including via cannabis prohibition. Cannabis opponents, both inside and outside of league offices, have worked very hard over the years to paint cannabis reform as a ho-hum issue that only affects cannabis consumers. They have done this with great success and influenced many players and fans whether they know it or not.

While many professional athletes (especially current ones) are quick to point out that things need to be done immediately to fight systemic racism, they have failed to speak out about cannabis reform. I don’t think that’s deliberate, I think that it’s because most professional athletes don’t realize just how racist cannabis prohibition is, especially against African Americans. As far as I know Uncle Cliffy Sports Cannabis was the first to point it out from the sports cannabis community. Below are the words of the ‘Father of Federal Cannabis Prohibition’ Harry Anslinger:

“Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others.”

Those are some of the most horrible, despicable words that have ever been uttered in the English language, let alone American politics. Yet, those words and that type of thinking is what American cannabis prohibition (and with it professional sports prohibition) is founded on. I’m sure some people that are on the fence will say, ‘but those words were said in the 1930’s, that’s a long time ago, it’s not that way now.’ However, those people are failing to look at much more recent history. Lets zoom forward almost forty years to the Nixon Administration, which came up with the federal drug laws (including cannabis laws) that are still in place today, and that leagues rely on when they point out that cannabis is federally prohibited. Below is an exact quote from John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former Domestic Policy Chief about the goal of the War on Drugs:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said, referring to Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

As you can see, the War on Drugs was created to go after people of color in a way that wouldn’t draw public outcry, yet would achieve the same objectives that overt racism would yield. The end result is a prohibition on cannabis that translates to African Americans being arrested at nearly 4 times the rate as white people, despite consumption rates being relatively the same between races. And realize that not all of those arrests are for direct possession. African Americans (including pro athletes) get punished all the time in America for simply being present where cannabis is present.

These facts are directly related to the principles behind the calls for social change that are being made by current athletes like Chris Paul (President of the Players Association), Lebron James (First Vice President of the Players Association), Carmelo Anthony (Vice President of the Players Association), and Dwayne Wade. If these players are serious about creating the social change they called for at the ESPY’s, and I wholeheartedly believe that they are, they need to support ending cannabis prohibition in sports.

As I pointed out earlier in this article, professional sports leagues punish players for criminal justice issues. So if an African American athlete is almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis outside of the league, that same African American athlete is four times as likely to be punished by the professional sports league that he/she works for. That’s absolutely unacceptable, and should be something that professional athletes should be up in arms about.

In the case of Chris Paul, Lebron James, and Carmelo Anthony, they are in a direct position to do something about it being that they fill some of the top leadership positions in the National Basketball Player’s Association. No one is saying that they need to be pro-cannabis use (although it’s OK if they did), but it’s completely logical for them to support removing cannabis from the NBA’s banned substance list for purely social justice reasons.

In an interview with USA Today Sports, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that it is up to the Players Association to bring the topic forward, so it appears that they are open to such dialogue. That should be encouraging for current NBA players. But, it doesn’t let the NBA off the hook just because they punted it to players. Collective bargaining doesn’t come around that often, but systemic racism is a burden that players have to deal with literally every day that they are employed by the league.

If the NBA (and other professional leagues) truly cared about diversity and its players, it would do everything that it could to end systemic racism. Ending cannabis prohibition is not a risky move, which is something that leagues need to realize. According to the most recent Gallup Poll 60% of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition. Numerous professional sports teams are now located in states that allow cannabis consumption for adult use. Below is a list of teams from the NBA, NFL, and MLB, via

California – Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels

Massachusetts – Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots

Oregon – Portland Trail Blazers

Washington – Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners

Colorado – Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies

Washington D.C. – Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards

Professional athletes, the leagues they compete in, and the fans that support those leagues don’t need to be consumers to support the end of cannabis prohibition in sports. Cannabis prohibition is a failed, racist policy. That’s true inside of the stadiums and arenas just as much as it is outside of the stadiums and arenas, proven by math alone. I encourage professional athletes to take up this issue, and to join freedom fighters like Eugene Monroe and Cliff Robinson in calling for pro sports leagues to take a sensible approach to cannabis!

image via ACLU

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