Despite the multi-billion dollar enterprises that the four large professional sports leagues in America have become, many of those organizations have long held prohibitionist views when it comes to recreational and even medical cannabis usage. Beyond solely just the organizations themselves having a negative viewpoint, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have previously handed out penalties and punishments to players that violate the enacted drug-free policy that have entirely derailed careers more than a serious injury could. While the policies have luckily changed considerably, those reforms won’t undo the harm that all those career-hurting or even career-ending punishments have caused.
Ricky Williams, a former NFL running back who won a Heisman trophy in 1998 among many career accolades, missed the entire 2004 and 2006 seasons because of a testing positive for cannabis usage. Williams, who’s now a successful entrepreneur in the American cannabis industry, missed some of his best playing years due to the NFL’s draconian policy. Former Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon’s struggle with not only the NFL’s policy on cannabis but also greater substance abuse was well-documented and well-punished. Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gregory received significantly long suspensions across multiple years and even an indefinite suspension in 2019 due to cannabis usage regardless of the severe injuries that he faced at the time.
The other leagues historically haven’t been very receptive towards athletes using cannabis either. In the National Basketball League, several high-profile athletes have received punishments for their usage of the plant. Social media connoisseur J.R. Smith was suspended from five games in the 2013-2014 season because of a positive drug test which estimated to cost him approximately $250,000 in pay and then-Denver Nuggets player J.J. Hickmon faced a similar punishment the following season. Arnett Moultrie, Terrel Harris and Larry Sanders also all faced punishments during the same season that Smith faced his punishment.
As the country and the social stigma as a whole surrounding cannabis are rapidly changing with every year that further reforms are implemented, so have the policies regarding cannabis changed in the NBA. Not only has cannabis been removed from the list of banned substances but allowed current and former NBA players alike to now invest and promote cannabis companies on their own accord without facing any league punishment.
“We decided that, given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn’t need to act as Big Brother right now,” Commissioner Adam Silver said when suspending any cannabis testing and subsequent penalties. “I think society’s views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.”
As part of a recent collective bargaining agreement, NBA players may invest and sponsor not only cannabis companies but also sports betting companies. It’ll be worth watching exactly how active NBA players are allowed to invest and promote sports betting companies in particular without betting on the very games they’re playing in, similar to the Pete Rose situation.
After hilariously being fired from his position as an analyst on the Disney-owned network ESPN following an 2021 Instagram Live stream of him smoking cannabis among other very not Disney-friendly yet totally legal activities, Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce announced his own foray into the cannabis industry with his brand “Truth”. And following his termination from Disney/ESPN, Pierce has also shared videos of him getting extensive tours of several different cultivation facilities, passionately becoming involved in the industry of the plant he was fired for.
While he’s certainly a smart player on the court, power forward Kevin Durant is also a very astute businessman. His partnerships and sponsorships with commercial titans in athletic wear such as Nike and Foot Locker have made Durant consistently one of the highest earning basketball players. In cannabis, Durant’s entrepreneurial skills have certainly shined. In August of 2021, Durant partnered with dispensary locator and cannabis news platform WeedMaps partially in an attempt to further destigmatize the plant. With his venture capital firm Thirty Five Ventures, Durant has invested in numerous cannabis companies and brands. Durant has also utilized his platform to advocate for cannabis reform in numerous ways.
“I think it’s far past time to address the stigmas around cannabis that still exist in the sports world as well as globally.” Durant once told ESPN.
Another esteemed power forward who’s become just as esteemed in cannabis is Al Harrington. The basketball player used his fortune he earned from nearly two decades in the NBA and created the Viola brand. Lovingly named after his grandmother, Harrington’s products are now carried in the majority of the Legal States and he’s using the Viola brand to promote and support his fellow Black entrepreneurs and professionals in the cannabis industry. It’s a mission that is certainly needed, as only an estimated two percent of cannabis businesses in America are Black-owned.
The relationship between NBA players and alumni and the cannabis plant is long-running and has resulted in numerous professional basketball stars finding a second career in utilizing their platform to advocate for cannabis while also making a comfortable living doing so.