When former NFL defensive end David Irving turned on his front facing camera and broadcast an Instagram live story of himself smoking a blunt last Spring, he knowingly hung up his cleats to escape the league’s notoriously strict cannabis policy. Now, nearly a year removed from his smoke-filled exit from professional football, Irving has dedicated his life to cannabis, trading turf fields for the advocacy of legal grass.
“I know the perception people have of me is that I’m some sort of gangsta, homeless pothead,” Irving told Sports Illustrated in a new exclusive interview. “But I gave up football for a bigger cause. I want to change the bias toward marijuana. I want to educate America that it’s not a drug, it’s medicine. The real reason I’m not in the NFL is that I’d rather be out here saving lives.”
Irving entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, and worked his way from practice squad relegation to three seasons rushing quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys. But entering his third season, Irving was placed in the league’s substance abuse program, suspended for four games after testing positive for THC, and then subject to an increased number of drug tests. After another cannabis-fueled suspension in 2018, Irving played two more regular season games for the Cowboy’s before taking to IG to announce his unconventional retirement.
But with plenty of newfound time on his hands, Irving hasn’t succumbed to couch lock, but has instead channeled his energy into promoting the benefits of cannabis. These days, Irving spends his work hours pushing back against the NFL’s draconian drug policies, attending conferences, calling politicians, making speeches, and promoting pot products, including a new passport-shaped book of hemp rolling papers.
“I have headaches and some PTSD, and marijuana helps me,” he told SI. “It’s not the problem. Opioids are. But the NFL lets players shove Xanax and Ambien and [Hydrocodone] down their throat like candy. Trust me, America’s epidemic is not some natural plant that God gave us to help us, among other things, manage pain.”
He added later in the new interview that he’s “been smoking since I was in middle school. Always had a 3.0 GPA. Never had any trouble with the law. We just need to stop already with the lies and misconceptions… [Cannabis] could help the NFL with its CTE problem, too. The stereotypes are nonsense. It’s just like prohibition, only 100 years later.”
During his football career, Irving said he suffered at least 25 concussions, and continues to struggle with injuries he suffered on field. But while the NFL has long promised to study and potentially transform hemp and cannabis from banned substances to accepted medical treatments, the league has not yet made good on those guarantees. In the meantime, Irving is doing his best to change his own popular image, and convince football fans and NFL employees alike that cannabis is longer worth demonizing.
“Marijuana can help heal people,” Irving said. “But the NFL is big business, and they don’t want you around if you make noise. Can’t take a knee. Can’t make a stand. That’s just not a place I’m interested in being around. If people will listen to me and get to know me, they’ll realize I’m not the troubled addict I’m painted out to be. I’m just trying to make this world a better place. Marijuana can help me do that.”
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