Two nights before the AFC Championship Game in Denver last season, and shortly after pot officially became legal in Colorado, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with his players to explain that despite the state’s new law, the NFL still treats marijuana as a controlled substance, equal to heroin and cocaine.
“This is a business trip,” former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount recalled Belichick explaining. “Bill basically said, ‘Don’t bother. It’d be stupid.’ It was really good advice.”
It was. But eight months later on Wednesday, just two hours before Blount and his new Pittsburgh Steelers teammates were scheduled to take a short flight for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he and fellow running back Le’Veon Bell were pulled over and charged with marijuana possession after a motorcycle cop smelled weed coming from their black Camaro while he was passing at highway speeds.
The misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail sentence of up to 30 days. Should the charges stick (the players and their unnamed female passenger cooperated and admitted that the marijuana belonged to them), the two could face a four-game suspension that would decimate the otherwise inexperienced Steelers backfield early in the season. The rest of the team has a total of zero career carries in the regular season.
While league commissioner Roger Goodell waits to rule whether the NFL will eventually allow medical marijuana, he had to face the drug issue this summer when he suspended Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington for the full season after he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Cleveland wideout Josh Gordon has been waiting four months to hear his fate regarding a similar offense, but that decision has no doubt been complicated by backlash to the stringent marijuana rules after Ravens running back Ray Rice was given a two-game ban for punching his fiance in an elevator and dragging her by the hair through a hotel lobby — an act that was caught on surveillance camera and broadcast on all channels.
Is pot really worth more punishment than domestic violence? Or run-ins with police? Or stomping an opponent? The NFL is fighting a tough battle, especially considering that the two teams in last year’s Super Bowl come from states where smoking recreationally is legal, and one former player estimated that up to 80 percent of NFL athletes are using marijuana.
If that number is even close to true, the NFL will have to decide whether to adapt to the more lenient standards of Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the U.S. Military. But for now, Bell and the unfortunately named Blount await their suspensions.