Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr made headlines over the weekend for speaking out in favor of medical marijuana.
The surprise, really, is why his comments are all that controversial. After November’s historic election, 29 states now have medical marijuana programs in place and another six states (plus Washington D.C.) have fully legalized adult recreational use.
But when a prominent sports figure goes against the grain of league protocol, eyebrows get furrowed.
“I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this, but I’ve actually tried [marijuana] twice during the last year and a half when I’ve been going through this pain, this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with,” Kerr told host Monte Poole on a podcast.
“A lot of research, a lot of advice from people, and I have no idea if I would — maybe I would have failed a drug test. I don’t even know if I’m subject to a drug test or any laws from the NBA, but I tried it, and it didn’t help at all. But it was worth it, because I’m searching for answers on pain. But I’ve tried painkillers and drugs of other kinds, as well, and those have been worse. It’s tricky.”
Kerr, 51, underwent two back surgeries in 2015, causing him to miss nearly half of last season.
“I’m not a pot person. It doesn’t agree with me. I tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you got lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin,” Kerr said. “And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal. And there’s like this perception in our country that over-the-counter drugs are fine but pot is bad. Now, I think that’s changing.
“You’re seeing that change in these laws that you’re talking about in different states, including California. But I would just hope that sports leagues are able to look past the perception. I’m sure the NFL is worried that their fans are going to go, ‘All the players are potheads.’ ”
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Kerr’s experience with chronic pain was so severe, he said he would try just about anything.
“I know enough, especially over the last couple years, having gone through my own bout with chronic pain, I know enough about this stuff — Vicodin is not good for you,” Kerr said.“It’s way worse for you than pot, especially if you’re looking for a painkiller and you’re talking about medicinal marijuana, the different strains what they’re able to do with it as a pain reliever. I think it’s only a matter of time before the NBA and NFL and Major League Baseball realize that.”
The NFL continues to ban cannabis and players testing positive for the drug are in direct violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. But the NFL Players’ Association is considering the possibility of its use for pain management.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told GQ magazine that “it’s our strong preference that our players do not consume marijuana” but conceded that the league is focused more on human growth hormones than marijuana. As for coaches?
“All of our coaches are drug tested each season,” Silver said. “Marijuana is included on our banned substances list. There are medical exceptions to our policy but, in this case, it’s not relevant because Steve said he did not find marijuana to be helpful in relieving his back pain.”
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On Saturday, Kerr said he was surprised by the attention his comments received.
“The conversation was really about pain relief in professional sports,” he said. “The context of our conversation and my response to your question was about how professional sports should handle pain relief for players. I thought it was … interesting. Because of the way the world works, the way the media works, what is a very serious conversation about pain relief turn into the headline, ‘Kerr smokes pot.’ So, I guess that’s the world we live in. That’s fine. But I’m actually kind of glad it became an issue. It’s a very important issue to talk about. Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, and a lot of pain, I had to do a lot of research. You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, NFL players, that’s what they’re given. The stuff is awful. The stuff is dangerous. The addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.”
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