In the 6th Round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected University of Miami Running Back Mike James, a Florida-grown beast who they hoped would bolster their ground attack on offense.
Instead, a broken ankle in his rookie season (ironically against the Miami Dolphins) sidelined the young athlete and his career has been plagued ever since by nagging injuries and chronic pain that led to a dangerous battle with opiate abuse.
Fortunately for James, his wife rescued him from the deadly trap of painkiller addiction by introducing him to the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Unfortunately for James, the NFL has a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis use.
This has led to two separate failed drug tests under the league’s banned substances policy – one in 2017, and again this year.
The league tests players once a year, always during the preseason between 4/20 (literally, those fuckers) and August 9th. The first failed test gets them put in a league-held prevention program and further infractions lead to more severe punishments, up to a 10-game suspension.
So now instead of asking for forgiveness from the NFL, Mike James is asking for permission.
Now 27 years old and an unsigned Free Agent with a bit of a …cloud…hanging over him, James and his agent have filed a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) with the league.
“Submitting the TUE was a huge risk. I may have sacrificed my career to do it,” James told BBC Sport.
James and his agent believe that he is the first player from any of the major sports to file such a request with regards to cannabis use.
Their original application was denied last month with the league claiming that James had not satisfied the requirements to prove that his chronic pain was severe enough or that his concussion history proved any onset of traumatic brain injuries.
Meanwhile, here are some of the reasons that the league lists that they will approve under the exemption:
· Male pattern baldness
· Hormonal deficiency due to either primary or secondary hypogonadism and/or hypopituitarism
In 2016, the NFL made a $100 million pledge to increase research into TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries), concussions, and how they may be affecting past and present players. To not just ignore the potentially positive role that cannabis could play in that research, but to blindly ban it outright when players look into those benefits for themselves is highly irresponsible by the NFL.
James estimates that roughly half of NFL players are using cannabis in total defiance of league policies. A 2011 study found 52% of retired NFL players used painkillers during their careers … more than 70% of those players abused those drugs.
James realistically sees his battle as an uphill one but hopes to set a precedent and an example for other players who may not have the courage to step up and speak out.
James says, “I had three or four current players reach out to me immediately. A lot of people I played with have told me to keep doing it, please keep doing what you’re doing because we all need it.”
There are only four states left in the U.S. where cannabis is entirely illegal and none of them have an NFL team located there – Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. So while the fans in the stands can basically be as baked as they want to be, the guys taking the beating on the field cannot take advantage of their home state’s progression on cannabis reform.
All he ever wanted to do was run the ball but now Mike James is tired of running and he is ready to fight.