Professional athletes get paid to play games. Who wouldn’t want to play for a living? But it’s not all fun and games. Athletes put their bodies on the line every day in training and in competition. An injury can end a season or, God forbid, a career.
Then there’s the pain associated with injury and the subsequent treatments and rehabilitation. That’s where the danger of prescription drug addiction comes in. Some injuries never properly heal, leaving the athlete in permanent pain. Many athletes turn to NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and painkillers to be able to make it through the day.
It’s common knowledge that pro football players have short shelf lives. Running backs and wide receivers average just under three years of playing time; quarterbacks, kickers, and punters, under five. Marquee players might last longer—some 10, 15 years or even more—but they are not the norm.
Giving opioids the boot for something better
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe went through four knee surgeries during his career. Since his retirement in 2013, he has been very involved in advocating for medical cannabis as an alternative to the traditionally used opioids. He says that a lot of the guys who played before him were hooked on pain pills, and he saw how that ended up. So he turned to cannabis because he was wary of “getting hooked on OxyContin or Vicodin and then having to deal with that.”
Kluwe took what was for him a safer route, using cannabis to cope with the pain during recovery and rehab. Many other former players like Jim McMahon, the Chicago Bears’ well-known former quarterback, have joined Kluwe in speaking out on the many health benefits of cannabis, especially with regard to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Fortunately, Kluwe was able to avoid addiction. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer, Abby Wambach, was a different story. Wambach has scored more goals than any other international player, of any gender, and was a role model for youth around the world. But that image was shattered earlier this year in April, when she was arrested for driving under the influence.
Scoring some bad drugs
That fateful night may have ended the illusion of perfection, but the event could have saved her life. As she dealt with the fallout from the arrest, she also came to the realization that she was addicted to alcohol and pills—Vicodin, Ambien, and Adderall, to be exact. (Given Chris Kluwe’s statement above, it’s ironic that the opioid Vicodin was one of the addictions she dealt with.)
It’s no secret that Wambach is tough. She sustained head injuries, ran to the locker room for stitches, then continued to play during a match in the 2007 FIFA World Cup. In the 2008 Summer Olympics she was sidelined with fractures to her tibia and fibula. And those are just the major injuries. One does not play soccer on a professional level without experiencing ankle or knee sprains and other setbacks. All those injuries add up. On good days they may only irritate; on bad days it’s downright painful to move.
What if cannabis were acknowledged by governing sports bodies like FIFA, the Olympic Committee, the NFL, and other leagues? What if cannabis had been legal years ago? Could Wambach have avoided her addictions?
We will never know for sure, but we know that she should have been given the option.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amber Boone considers writing the cornerstone of communication. She interviews MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes for CombatPress.com and opines on MMA at FightItOut.com. She’s passionate about helping folks tell their stories and making the world a better place, which includes working to win the freedom of Americans to partake of the herb. When not writing or playing beach volleyball, she can be found at her day job—for now. Follow Amber on Twitter @thruthetrees11.