The role of marijuana in professional sports might sound like a new development, but it has actually been well documented for over 40 years. As a recent piece from the sports authority SB Nation shows, some of this cannabis use was ordinary, while other cases were definitely more outrageous. From coaches allowing players to smoke weed without getting booted from the team to high-speed chases to prevent law enforcement from discovering a car full of weed, the spectrum for which cannabis has been wrapped up with pro sports is vast.
Here are a few of most interesting tales.
In the early 1970’s, it was revealed that former UCLA coach John Wooden, who had a reputation for being a hardcore disciplinarian, gave one of his star players, Bill Walton, permission to smoke marijuana and remain on the team. Walton’s ex-wife Susie exposed this tidbit of information in an interview with the New York Times, in which she said, ‘’Wooden let Bill smoke pot but not the other players.” Wooden has forever denied this accusation.
Around a decade later a story surfaced surrounding Formula 1 racing legend James Hunt that suggested he had used his driving skills on the mean streets of Scotland to avoid getting busted by the cops for weed. In a piece for the Mirror, Hunt’s son recounted some of the wild times his father had while leading a rock star career. One of the tales involved a “big bag of weed” and several police cars trying to shut him 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.”
These days, it is not surprising when a NBA star gets caught with a little weed. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1996, former NBA player JR Rider, who was with the Portland Trail Blazers at the time, made headlines after he was caught by police smoking weed out of a soda can. ‘’They observed Mr. Rider holding a pop can and a lighter near his mouth,’’ said a spokesman for the Clackamas County Sherriff’s Office. ‘’Deputies seized the items and found the can to be converted into a smoking device, which contained a small amount of marijuana.’’
A few years later two more Portland Trail Blazers were busted for marijuana after being pulled over by the cops for speeding. An officer with the Washington State Patrol stopped Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire following a winning game against the Seattle Supersonics. It was during the stop that the officer smelled marijuana. A search uncovered “less than 40 grams,” according to reports. But both players fought the charges and they were eventually dropped.
Throughout the years leading up to the days of statewide legalization, athletes including Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and former NBA player Stephon Marbury encountered hardships after being caught on camera smoking marijuana. But now, even though cannabis is still not accepted in professional sports, athletes are less secretive about using the herb. UFC fighter Nate Diaz proved that in 2016, when he openly used a CBD vape pen during a press conference.
Regardless of its acceptance, pro athletes are still using the herb as an alternative to pain medications. They have simply found ways to beat drug testing – even if some of these methods are considered dangerous.
But as a separate article from SB Nation says, “athletes are leading cannabis into the mainstream.” Several former athletes have joined the cannabis industry and the fight to legitimatize cannabis use in professional sports. So far, no policy changes have been made. But the momentum behind this movement is so strong that officials may be forced to give some serious consideration to the concept in the near future.