Weed and sports, from 1971 to now
By: Morgan Moriarty
Cannabis and sports have had their fair share of run-ins, from the mundane to the scandalous. Like a hall of fame coach allegedly letting his star player, and only his star player, smoke weed before games, or an NFL prospect who lost millions after a video of him smoking weed from a gas mask surfaced minutes before the draft.
As you’ll see in this timeline, over the last few decades athletes were all too often punished by teams, leagues and the law for the use of cannabis. Some had their draft stock hurt, even though the supposed use didn’t seem to negatively affect their play on the field before a positive test ... or after. Some players hated weed, others loved it, plenty didn’t care much one way or the other.
In short: Like a lot of things, it’s complicated. Without further ado, I present to you a brief, modern history of athletes and cannabis.
Former UCLA player Bill Walton
Walton’s ex-wife Susie Walton, in an interview with the New York Times, said UCLA coach John Wooden told one of his star players he was allowed to smoke weed and still remain on the team. But his other teammates could not.
She says that despite Wooden’s reputation as a disciplinarian, he deferred to his star. ‘’Wooden let Bill smoke pot but not the other players,’’ she says, although Wooden denies it. ‘’It’s funny, but Bill never said Wooden was this wonderful guy then. Now he puts him on a pedestal. Bill is still searching for certitude in assertive father figures.’’
Wooden said this was never a team policy.
Sometime in the mid-1980s
Former Formula 1 racer James Hunt
According to a story recounted by his son, Hunt once got in a police chase in Scotland because he didn’t want to be pulled over with weed in his car:
“He thought, ‘I’m not getting pulled over’, because he had a big bag of weed in the car, so he just put his foot down.
“It ended up being a three-car cop chase and he actually outdrove the cops. To be fair, he was a Formula One champion and it probably helped that he was driving a 6.9-litre Mercedes.”
NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp
Sapp was thought to be a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft, but he failed a drug test for cannabis at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He ended up dropping to No. 13 overall with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It turns out a lot of NFL teams have found great bargains due to weed!
NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss
Moss was associated with cannabis use even before his collegiate career began:
Character issues cost Randy Moss throughout the early stages of his career. Misdemeanor battery charges in high school kept him from attending Notre Dame. He wound up at Florida State, but a positive drug test for marijuana violated his probation and limited his choice of colleges even further. He wound up at Marshall University, a I-AA program just an hour from his hometown in West Virginia.
Moss then went and lit the world on fire as the Thundering Herd transitioned to I-A ball, gaining more than 3,500 yards and catching 58 touchdowns in just two seasons with the team. That primed him to be a potential top-five pick in the NFL draft, but Moss dropped to 21st overall when he missed the 1998 NFL Draft Combine.
He then won Offensive Rookie of the Year, became a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-Team All-NFL, and this year was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. So it goes.
Former NBA player JR Rider
Less than two days before his first game as a Trail Blazer, Rider was cited for smoking weed out of a soda can:
‘’They observed Mr. Rider holding a pop can and a lighter near his mouth,’’ said Damon Coates, the Clackamas County, Oregon, sheriff’s spokesman. ‘’Deputies seized the items and found the can to be converted into a smoking device, which contained a small amount of marijuana.’’
Former NBA players Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire
In 2002, when the two played for the Portland Trailblazers, they were pulled over in a yellow Hummer for speeding, and cops found cannabis in the car:
The Blazers had just defeated the Seattle SuperSonics, 89-85, and Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire decided to drive privately back to Portland instead of accompanying the Blazers on the team bus. Midway between Seattle and Portland, they were pulled over by Lt. Marty Butler of the Washington State Patrol for driving 84 in a 70 mph zone. During the traffic stop, which technically occurred at 12:02 a.m. on Nov. 22, officers smelled marijuana and later discovered less than 40 grams of the substance.
Both Stoudamire and Wallace denied the allegations, and the charges against both were eventually dropped.
Former NBA player, current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups
In 2016, Billups told the Washington Post that some players he played with performed better playing games after smoking:
“I honestly played with players — I’m not going to name names; of course I’m not — I wanted them to smoke. They played better like that. Big-time anxiety, a lot of things can be affected — [marijuana] brought ’em down a bit. It helped them focus in a little bit on the game plan. I needed them to do that. I would rather them do that than, sometimes, drink.”
Former NFL running back Ricky Williams
In 2007, Williams took up yoga as an alternative to cannabis, then failed a test anyway. As our own Louis Bien wrote, Williams would be one of the athletes who ushered in a new way of thinking about the substance around the league and, according to some advocates now, made it more acceptable for NFL athletes to turn to cannabis as a pain reliever and mood stabilizer after retirement.
23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps
In 2009, one year after the Beijing Summer Olympics, a photo of him using a bong at a University of South Carolina house party was released by the British tabloid News of the World. He lost two sponsorships from Rosetta Stone and At&T after the incident.
Phelps would go on to win four gold medals and two silver medals at the 2012 London Games, and five gold medals and a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games.
Former NBA basketball player Stephon Marbury
In 2009, when Marbury was seen on-camera smoking weed when he was a free agent, he was pretty upfront about what he was doing.
“Yep ... you saw me. I’m not under contract...I smoke weed occasionally. I’m not driving ... I’m following the rules.”
Former NFL offensive lineman Eben Britton
In 2016, he admitted to playing games after smoking weed.
“NFL games I played stoned were some of the best games I ever played. Cannabis cements your surroundings,” he said via the New York Post. “A lot of people say they’re useless when they smoke weed. But hell, I played NFL games [while stoned], dude. My performances were solid and I felt really good after.”
Former CFL linebacker Rohan Marley
After opening his own restaurant and record label, the son of Bob Marley started a cannabis company in 2014.
Professional skier Tanner Hall
In 2016, Hall became one of the first active athletes to be sponsored by a weed accessory company:
Black Rock Originals, a weed accessory brand, announced today that they are official sponsors of Tanner Hall, making this the “first official relationship between cannabis and active professional athletes.”
NFL offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil
The former Ole Miss Rebel was projected as a top-10 pick, but minutes before the draft, his Twitter account was hacked, and someone posted a video of him smoking week from a gas mask. His stock tumbled significantly, and he lost millions because of it.
Tunsil was eventually drafted by the Miami Dolphins at No. 13, but his draft stock took a big spill after the video came to light. Tunsil was considered by some to be the No. 1 prospect in the draft, and projected to be selected as high as No. 3 by the San Diego Chargers, but the Chargers took defensive lineman Joey Bosa instead. At No. 6, the Ravens selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley instead of Tunsil. Several sources reported the Ravens considered Tunsil, but wavered after the video was posted.
Tunsil has started all 30 games he’s played since signing with the Dolphins.
UFC fighter Nate Diaz
Openly used a CBD vape pen at a post-fight press conference.
“It’s CBD. It helps with the healing process and inflammation and stuff like that,” he told reporters. “So you wanna get these for before after the fight. It’ll make your life a better place.”
Former NBA player Stephen Jackson
Last February, former NBA player Stephen Jackson admitted to smoking weed before games:
“I just gotta be real, you know it’s been a couple of games where I smoked before games and had great games,” Jackson told Rapaport on his podcast: I Am Rapaport.
“It’s been some games where I smoked before the game and was on the bench after three minutes sitting on the sideline, ‘Please calm down. This high has to calm down.’ I done shot three shots that went over the backboard, like, I’m going to be honest, like, ‘Ah, I gotta calm down,’” he added.
Former NBA player Cliff Robinson
After enjoying a 19-year career in the league, spent mostly with the Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Suns, Robinson opened a cannabis dispensary called “Uncle Spliffy” just last summer.
UFC fighter Cynthia Calvillo
Calvillo accepted a six-month suspension from USADA after testing positive for THC following her loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 219 in Las Vegas. Shortly after, the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) would suspend Calvillo for nine months, and fine her over $6,000 for the failed test. Calvillo was 6-1 and the No. 9 ranked strawweight in UFC at the time of the failed test. She will be eligible to return to the octagon in September.