When Calvin Johnson announced his retirement from the NFL in March 2016, defensive backs across the league breathed a collective sigh of relief. Nicknamed “Megatron” for his superhuman speed, strength, and ability to pluck the ball out of thin air, Johnson had spent his whole career torching cornerbacks and tallying touchdowns.
Off the field though, Johnson struggled with constant injury and chronic pain. But instead of turning to opioids like team doctors recommended, Johnson says he smoked a joint after every Sunday showdown.
In a recent post-retirement profile from Sports Illustrated writer Michael Rosenberg, Johnson said that during his playing days, the Detroit Lions’ training staff handed out prescription painkillers like candy. But after realizing how much of toll opioids had on his body and psyche, Johnson turned to cannabis and never looked back.
“When I got to the league, [there] was opioid abuse,” Johnson told SI. “You really could go in the training room and get what you wanted. I can get Vicodin, I can get Oxy[contin]. It was too available. I used Percocet and stuff like that. And I did not like the way that made me feel. I had my preferred choice of medicine. Cannabis.”
Gallery — The Famous and 420-Friendly:
Over the past few years, as cannabis has become more mainstream and started to shed its decades-old stigma, a number of former NFL stars from current and past generations have come out in support of cannabis legalization, and, more specifically, ending the NFL’s strict marijuana ban.
“It’s not about the welfare of the players,” Johnson told SI about the NFL’s injury and pain management protocols. “[It’s] just about having that product.”
NFL officials have said that they will engage in joint research alongside the league’s Players Union to study the efficacy of cannabis for use in pain management, recovery, and mental health, but those efforts have been slow to materialize. In the meantime, NFL players are still subject to frequent drug tests, and can be punished with fines and suspension for showing traces of THC in their system.
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