Weed in Sports: Athletes That Smoke

In a previous post[a], I talked about successful smokers who have helped rewrite the stereotypes around stoners. These trailblazing blazers prove that weed won’t get in the way of smoking away the competition.


Olympic Athletes


Controversy found the Olympics before competition began this year when news broke that breakout track star Sha’Carri Richardson had been suspended one month for cannabis use.


Richardson admits to eating an edible to cope with a death in the family. Despite her being of legal age and in a recreational state, THC is banned in the Olympics.


On the flip side, Megan Rapinoe and her fiance, Sue Bird, lead a crew of Team USA athletes promoting CBD as a training aid. This reflects the larger legal confusion as laws and attitudes change around the world.


Megan Rapinoe uses CBD

Photograph by Lorie Shaull


When a photograph was leaked of Michael Phelps smoking from a classic RooR bong, he faced a three-month suspension and lost a major sponsorship.


The effect it had on his image at the time was enough that he later revealed people were encouraging him to sue the leaker.


The timing of Richardson’s suspension led Team USA to leave her off the final Olympics roster. Despite this hurdle, Nike reaffirmed their commitment as her sponsor, and the court of public opinion has been largely on her side.


The spread of legalization has contributed to public acceptance of cannabis consumption. In 2016, cannabis was prohibited in both Mexico and Canada. They enter these Olympics as the two most populous nations with legal recreational use.


Legalization rally in canada

"Celebrations on Robson" by Vaska037 is licensed under CC BY 2.0


NBA Getting Vocal


Prohibition by private policy is a conversation for American leagues as well. This year’s gold medal men’s basketball team was led by a player who has publicly supported the idea of the NBA updating their policies on cannabis.


Kevin Durant smokes weed

Spoilers, it’s the taller guy.


Kevin Durant, in addition to being an NBA and Olympic champion, is a heavy cannabis smoker.


According to a close friend, Durant does nothing but train and smoke. He had to make an effort to detox in preparation for the Olympics. No official word if he took a well-timed t-break or just had some help from Niacin pills.


Team USA assistant coach Steve Kerr, who coached Durant in Golden State, has said that he tried cannabis after a back surgery, but it wasn’t for him.


His experience convinced him that medical cannabis is safer than the pain medication athletes currently use. He’s publicly supported medical cannabis since 2016.


His admission led to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban voicing his support for medical marijuana exemptions in the league’s bylaws.


Of course, cannabis use isn’t new in the NBA; open use among active players, coaches, and executives is. Phil Jackson has experience as all three.



Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan cannabis

"File:Phil Jackson Lipofsky.JPG" by Steve Lipofsky www.Basketballphoto.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


As a player, Jackson has said cannabis helped him during a season lost to a back injury. As a coach, his famously Zen style led him to more titles than any other coach in history. And as an executive, he spoke on changing the rules.


Jackson believes fighting cannabis use is a lost cause for the league. It is “a part of the culture in the NBA” that Jackson knows firsthand.


Commissioner David Stern has said that the league should remove cannabis from its banned list. In the interim, the NBA does not currently test for cannabis. Not all executives agree, but the writing seems to be on the wall for the league.


NFL: Changes Come Quick


Cannabis is also a major part of the locker room culture in the NFL. Tight end Martellus Bennett estimated on a podcast that 89% of players use cannabis during the season. Chris Kluwe gave the more conservative estimate of 60%


Despite its proven pain management utility, the NFL has traditionally ruled harshly on cannabis. Failed tests led to automatic suspensions. Enough failed tests and, like wideout Josh Gordon, a player could be suspended indefinitely.


The tests were easy to beat, according to former Walter Payton Man of the Year Chris Long. He was a regular cannabis user during his career, and felt athletes who suffered cannabis-related suspensions had their reputations unfairly harmed.


It took several vocal athletes to change the NFL’s official stance on cannabis.


After numerous suspensions, Heisman-winning running back Ricky Williams retired early to focus on cannabis advocacy. He credited his regular cannabis use for his successful career.



Ricky Williams high as a kite?


Upon legalization, Williams partnered with entrepreneur Jim McAlpine to open a gym in California where athletes could utilize cannabis in their workouts. McAlpine, who invented a line of cannabis-infused athletic products, has declared it his mission to smash stoner stereotypes


The plan is for cannabis use to be allowed on-site after a “cannabis performance assessment”. This ensures safety while using the gym equipment. The gym is currently waiting for the permits to allow on-site use.


Chris Kluwe was an outspoken player and retirement did not slow his advocacy work. Along with Williams and other former players, he is a face of Gridiron Cannabis Coalition.


Disjointed | Gridiron Cannabis Coalition PSA | Netflix

A[b] PSA made for the Netflix show Disjointed


He has long encouraged the league to allow medical marijuana for players in an effort to combat opioid dependency.


Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, was a dominant receiver in his time with the Lions. After retiring, he committed fully to cannabis. He started a cannabis business alongside fellow former Lion Rob Sims and committed himself to studies.


Calvin Johnson on the field

"Calvin Johnson" by Mike Morbeck is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Both are players who used cannabis regularly during their career to combat pain. Sims says that in the NFL “a player is going to have to deal with pain either way it goes”.


These former players all want current players to have the option to treat pain with medical cannabis. The NFL is making some concessions in their cannabis policies in response.


Recent agreements will reduce penalties from suspensions to fines. They will also shorten the window for testing, so that the league isn’t testing players in the offseason.




The NBA and the NFL have been at the forefront of the discussion around cannabis use in professional sports. Despite further acceptance of cannabis use, both leagues list THC as a banned substance. Surprisingly, the NHL was the first major sports league to change that.


Although random tests check for THC, NHL players are not punished for having cannabis in their system. With a high enough concentration of THC over enough tests, they instead suggest counseling.


Not long after, they were joined by the MLB. This league finally listened to San Francisco Giants fans who, in 2010, began wearing shirts saying “Let Tim Smoke” in defense of three-time World Series champ Tim Lincecum.


Tim Lincecum

"Tim Lincecum San Francisco Giants" by Dirk DBQ is licensed under CC BY 2.0


As cannabis becomes more socially acceptable, more athletes feel comfortable discussing their smoking habits. This, in turn, improves public perception of cannabis use. It’s a social feedback loop that has, so far, allowed athletes more freedom.