It may not have registered with most football fans when it happened, but for Trent Williams, a four game suspension at the start of the 2011 NFL season changed everything. Since the punishment, Williams has been to five Pro Bowls and signed a five year $68 million contract with the Washington Redskins.
In a recent profile in the Washington Post, Williams credits the 2011 suspension for increasing his motivation to succeed in the league, but also divulges that he was disciplined for using marijuana in what he says was an attempt to recover from the pain and soreness of the season without the use of pharmaceutical pain pills. Williams says that painkillers have upset his stomach since he was first given them in high school.
“A lot of times, it’s just for that simple reason in itself,” Williams said. “Getting a concussion, dealing with headaches, whatever. Not saying that it was right, obviously I shouldn’t have done it and obviously should’ve chose a different method. But at that time, you’re caught up in the midst of the season and all you want to do is be available. It wasn’t the right decision, but if you’re looking for a reason, it’s just to try and feel better for the next week.”
But Williams, with almost a decade in the league and a game to play this weekend, isn’t willing to say that he made the right decision by breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy. In our eyes, Williams did nothing wrong in his search for pain relief, and he should be commended for finding a natural medicine instead of relying on the addictive pharmaceuticals NFL teams give out like Tic-Tacs. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his lack of action on drug policy reform.
Using a natural pain reliever that is entirely legal where Williams plays (Washington, D.C.), to combat brain damage caused while playing for the benefit of Roger Goodell and the NFL should not be a punishable offense, period.
Williams has moved on from his suspension and become one of the best offensive lineman in the game in years since, but other players aren’t as lucky, returning to find their job taken by a second string replacement or shunned by coaches and owners not willing to take on players with a “disciplinary past.”
As Williams’ story shows, though, cannabis use does not make a troubled football player. If the NFL cares about their athletes at all, the league will move as soon as possible to remove cannabis from the banned substances list. Any other action and every day without reform continues to be a slap in the face to the continued pain and suffering of Williams and his peers.