Super Bowl XLIX week is hereby called to order. The media are here in force, looking for stories. The fans are here, looking for a party.
And I’m here coordinating our troops and sifting through some of the best stuff being written by the national media and major newspapers.
Lots of stories are being churned out about all things Seahawks, Patriots and Super Bowl. Lots and lots of stories. More than you want to read, trust me. So I’ve done your research for you and skimmed a dozen or so of the best pieces I’ve found.
Want to read why Boston is way better than Seattle? Someone wrote it. Want to know about how smart Rob Gronkowski is? It’s here. Want to read a story written by Richard Sherman. Keep reading.
First, here are links to all The Seattle Times great content, then roundup of some of the best reads and just plain weird stuff that I’ve found this week.
Greetings, and welcome to the Super Bowl column I’m constitutionally obligated to write because I’m a journalist and the Super Bowl is Sunday and that’s all we’re allowed to write about.
(This requirement was added to the First Amendment in 1968, prompted by The Toledo Blade’s brazen decision — just days before Super Bowl II — to print a story about a municipal sewer board meeting that didn’t include the phrase “the big game this weekend.” President Lyndon B. Johnson was reportedly so livid he almost choked on a Buffalo wing.)
The appetite for Super Bowl news is so voracious right now that this column could be nothing but the words “Super Bowl” repeated 450 times and football enthusiasts would read it from beginning to end and then engage in hostile online debates over the exact meaning of the piece.
If you don’t believe that, consider how Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch — who gets fined if he doesn’t speak to the media — held a five-minute news conference Tuesday during which he answered 29 questions with the same response: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” On Wednesday, he answered another round of questions by repeating “You know why I’m here” over and over.
People watched it all with rapt attention and then bickered over the effectiveness of Lynch’s media strategy.
Super Bowl. Super Bowl. Super Bowl.
It seems the best service I can provide as a nonsports writer is a quick introduction to the teams and an overview of the primary themes of this year’s Gargantuan Gut-crunching Gridiron Grudge Match. (I have applied for a trademark on that name and anyone caught using it without attribution will be sued mercilessly.)
Let’s start with the teams:
The New England Patriots football team was founded in 1775 by legendary football coach Paul Revere. After an unexpected win against the Rhode Island Rapscallions, the Patriots celebrated by carrying Revere across Massachusetts while the coach yelled, “Look at me! I’m being carried by a football team!”
That historically accurate event was later twisted into the ridiculous tale of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride,” during which he was supposedly carried by “a horse” to warn people of the advancing British army. Though preposterous, that interpretation has endured, and the present-day New England Patriots are known as nothing more than a successful football franchise with a dangerously handsome quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks team was founded in 1974 when the Raptor Football League was nearing the end of its short but wildly popular existence. The team consisted of 52 untamed osprey and one flamingo (he was the kicker). The league folded two years later after a live fish giveaway during a playoff game went horribly awry.
The Seahawks name was then purchased by a collective of unemployed baristas who gave it to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in exchange for a free Microsoft Word download. Allen proceeded to create the human football version of the Seahawks using a computer that he had to reboot 17 times before it would work right.
The team finally won a Super Bowl last year by hacking into Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s brain and making him suck.
Man, it’s great to be a Patriots fan. For the past fifteen years, the playoffs haven’t been a privilege—they’ve been a right. Deflategate? Be more jealous, America-that-isn’t-New-England.
This Sunday, the world will again know what we’ve been certain of since, oh, Week 8 or so: the Patriots are the best in the business.
If you expected mercy, you came to the wrong place. No, this showdown opens with possibly New England’s most important cultural contribution: its food. Simply put, the region knows seafood. From Maine lobsters to New England Clam Chowder, nobody does it better. Not that Seattle doesn’t try. They too, have fish, and sometimes they throw them at you. So, tie? Just kidding.
Winner — Boston
As the birthplace of grunge, arguably the most influential style of American music over the last 30 years, Seattle should take this category running away, right? Wrong. Nope, it’s not high school anymore, so leave Nirvana‘s Nevermind in its sleeve. Don’t be that guy. Know whose fan you want to be? J. Geils Band’s. The classic rock staple has that indelible, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head sound that distinguishes the true greats. And they have a harmonica player called Magic Dick.
Winner — Boston
Between the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere’s Ride, nothing else in America matches New England for historical importance. Meanwhile, Seattle was founded in 1993 so Microsoft employees had a place to live. Or so I’m told.
Winner — Boston
What is behind the success that has the Seahawks‘ press man, Cover Three defense in the conversation with Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, the mid-1980s Bears and the 2000 Ravens as the most dominant in NFL history?
For starters, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have constructed a roster uncommon for its depth of talent in the face of free agency and a salary cap.
What separates the Seahawks from other great defenses of their era is their cadre of at least 10 players with the demonstrated ability to take over a game.
In cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, box safety Kam Chancellor and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, Seattle has the luxury of four All-Pros commonly viewed as the modern prototypes for their respective positions. All four boast Defensive Player of the Year potential.
“Me, Earl, Kam … we’re not just three All-Pro players,” Sherman crowed last year. “We’re three All-Pro minds.”
Their film study, knowledge of route concepts and command of situational football enables them to play at a faster speed than opposing offenses.
Beyond that impressive nucleus, Dan Quinn’s defense features another half-dozen disruptive influences.
From the moment Richard Sherman’s “U mad, bro?” Internet takedown of Tom Brady went viral in 2012, it was clear the Seattle Seahawks star was no ordinary trash talker.
“Richard is very calculated,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I think he’s an extraordinarily bright person, and I think for the most part, he is extremely mindful and represents his feelings very clearly.”
Calculated is perhaps the most perfect way to describe the way Sherman developed his massive off-field persona, turning himself from an unheralded fifth-round draft pick into a Madden video game cover boy and one of the NFL’s most marketable pitchmen.
He did it by carefully crafting every word, whether spoken calmly or yelled into a microphone.
He did it by picking his spots to make a splash, and it all started with Brady back in 2012. Sherman and his fellow Seahawks defensive backs were unabashedly unafraid of the New England Patriots quarterback before an Oct. 14 game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
After the Seahawks won that game 24-23 — Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas each intercepted Brady — Sherman sought out Brady on the field. He later posted a picture of their exchange, and labeled it “U mad, bro?”
The NFL’s next star was born.
“That’s who he is. He wants to go after the best,” said New England cornerback Brandon Browner, who was Sherman’s teammate in Seattle from 2011-2013. “I don’t think he even said, ‘You mad, bro.’ I think he just said something, and then the Internet took off from there.”
Carroll’s nine-year reign at Southern California had made him one of the most successful coaches in America. In the minds of most NFL officials, fairly or not, he remained a gum-chewing, fist-pumping, mantra-spouting softie, perfectly enthusiastic for college kids but not disciplined enough for professionals. In college, he was king. In the NFL, he was nicknamed “Pom-Pom Pete.”
“What changes now?” Roth asked Carroll when they spoke.
“Nothing,” Carroll replied, to Roth’s recollection. “Nothing changes now. I’m not changing one thing other than which day of the week we play. If I’m going down, I’m going down my way.”
Carroll, 63, is at the top of his profession, on the cusp of one of the greatest coaching accomplishments in NFL history. Last year, he became the third head coach ever to win both a college national championship and a Super Bowl. On Sunday, with a win over the New England Patriots, Carroll can become the seventh to win consecutive Super Bowls. The list he would join? Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick. No one thinks Pete Carroll is a joke anymore.
Carroll can cement himself as one of the NFL’s all-time great coaches two decades after the Jets fired him after one season and 15 years after the Patriots dispatched him after three years. How did Carroll morph from an NFL flameout to perhaps its most dominant coach?
During his tenure at USC, Carroll never changed his views nor his philosophies. But he did learn how to better articulate them – both to himself and others – and instill them into his team. He decided what mattered most to him. He clarified his vision. In the years between missing the playoffs with the Patriots and taking over in Seattle, Carroll had discovered what, exactly, he meant by “his way.”
Forget a moment about Marshawn Lynch talking or not talking.
What about him walking?
The very real possibility exists that Sunday could be Lynch’s final game with the Seattle Seahawks if the team opts not to bring him back.
There are two halves to this equation: One, the Seahawks might be in a financial bind, having handed out several contract extensions this season and still needing to save up for paying Russell Wilson and Byron Maxwell (whom the team has deemed to be a priority in re-signing). Can they also keep Lynch, who is currently set to hit on the salary cap for $7.5 million next season.
The other half is Lynch. Does he want to be back? The way his Seahawks teammates gush about him as a friend and locker-room figure, you’d think the answer would be yes. But there have been reports over the course of the past year that he remains unhappy with his contract situation, even after receiving a $1 million bump following an eight-day holdout in training camp last year. The Seahawks also appear to be in decent shape to replace him with young running backs Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, who come much cheaper.
But can the Seahawks even picture life after Lynch?
“I don’t want to imagine it,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s a huge part of us. He’s our identity. He helps us with creating the identity that we want to put out there.
“To be able to be a run-first team, the physical nature he brings, the extra effort, the clawing and scratching, the running people over, coming out of the back side of it … that gets you going as an offense and he gives you more confidence.”
The Seattle Seahawks‘ “Legion of Boom” secondary was built with players who have been underrated, undervalued, undersized and miscast in other places, only to come together in rare ways under the direction of head coach Pete Carroll. And in that regard, defensive backs coach Kris Richard is the ideal person to lead the unit.
Richard played cornerback for USC when Carroll took over the program in 2001. He spent just one season under Carroll, but he made an impression on his coach that lasted past Richard’s five-year NFL career. Selected in the third round by the Seahawks in 2002, Richard played in 39 NFL games, starting one, and never had an interception. When his career ended in San Francisco, he knew exactly what he wanted to do — and who he wanted to get him there.
“I don’t know exactly what [Carroll] saw, but what I do know is that after I walked off the practice field at USC for the last time, he asked me, ‘What do you want to do when it’s all said and done?'” Richard recalled. “And I said, ‘I want to coach.’ And I’ll never forget it, he said, ‘When that day comes, you come back and look me up.’ And that day came.”
Richard looked Carroll up again at USC in 2008, hoping that promise would be remembered.”He knew I was interested, and he knew my NFL career was done,” Richard said. “It was that season, and I’d been in contact with him to tell him, ‘Hey, I’m done and I’m interested in coaching.’ He wanted to know if I meant right now and told me that all the positions were filled — the graduate assistant position was filled and all that stuff. I told him that I would wait — I wasn’t doing anything at that point. I thought I would take a year and catch up with the family. But he said that he did have an opportunity, and I said, ‘Sure.’
“The rest is history from there. I came back, the graduate assistant at the time left, the position was open, and I came in. I hung out for a day, went through some interviews just to catch up, and here we are. He was a man of his word, and I hold him in high regard for that. I can’t think of anything better to say, because how often does that happen? You remember a conversation six years later. I said, ‘Coach, do you remember that you said you’d pick me up when I was done?’ and he said, ‘I do.'”
Carroll saw enough in Richard to bring him to Seattle as his defensive backs coach when he took the Seahawks job before the 2010 season. In five seasons, the two men, along with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, general manager John Schneider and Seattle’s scouting staff, have created a historically great defense that starts with the secondary. The Seahawks are the first team since the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings to lead the league in points allowed three straight years and the first defense since the 1985-86 Chicago Bears to lead the league in yards and points allowed. Especially in this era of expanding offenses and rules changes designed to benefit the other side of the ball, what this defense has done is quite rare. And as great as Seattle’s front seven has been, it all starts with the secondary.
Last season, while I was posing for magazine covers and calling out wide receivers in unconventional ways, I was also negotiating for an extension on my rookie contract. Seahawks general manager John Schneider asked me an important question: “Who are you going to be when you get paid?” As a fan, you’ve seen the scenario play out dozens of times—Player X gets a megadeal and never lives up to the paycheck; he stops playing hard and starts making business decisions with his body. I told John that I’m not playing football for the money, that I want to be the best to ever play. I said, “I’ll be the guy who has $50 million in the bank and plays like he has $5.”
My coach, Pete Carroll, says I’ve grown up since that breakout year, and to an extent, I agree. You see the world a little bit differently at 26 versus 25. Little slights don’t affect me as much as they did a year ago, and I don’t get overjoyed like I used to. It takes a little bit more to move the needle—winning a Super Bowl will do that. When you join a group of men and accomplish something so difficult and so rare, you no longer feel as though you have to prove things to people who haven’t proven anything to you. In most cases I have a better résumé than my detractors.
Before I had that, I was lucky to be drafted by Pete and John, who assembled around me one of the most talented and diverse defensive backfields in football. More than I want individual success, I want to be remembered as part of the Legion of Boom, which is why all of us are on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine this week. In football, unlike various other sports, it takes a total team effort to be successful.
I can’t perform at this level without Earl Thomas—The Example—who can show you how to do the right thing better than he can explain it. When everybody else is joking, he’s locked in, a reminder of what we’re here for.
I can’t perform at this level without Byron Maxwell, our chill guy, oblivious to the pressure. I remember him joking around with Carroll in our rookie camp, saying that if he was allowed to play nickel he’d choke out the slot receiver. Carroll relented and Maxwell delivered, only to get injured in camp. Now he’s the corner on the other side, and his consistently high level of play makes QBs’ decisions very difficult.
I can’t perform at this level without Jeremy Lane, the scrappy guy from Tyler, Texas. Competition brings out the dog in him; just look at what he’s done to the Packers’ Randall Cobb.
Carroll requires certain things of all of us—we have to tackle with the best—but he’s allowed each of us to be ourselves. This organization let me develop a public persona through trial and error, and it let me be nonchalant in my technique, something I wasn’t allowed to do at Stanford. I don’t imagine that’s an option in New England.
The Patriots wanted their 15 minutes with Russell Wilson. At the 2012 NFL combine in Indianapolis, New England coach Bill Belichick was thinking about drafting a quarterback to groom behind Tom Brady, though he wouldn’t actually do so for another two years. As Wilson sat in front of Belichick, another member of the New England contingent mentioned that the team already had a pretty good quarterback. What did Wilson think about that?
He told them, “Yes I understand who he is, but I’ve competed against everyone, so if you choose to bring me in here, I’m coming to compete and coming to win the job.”
That is according to Wilson’s uncle, Ben, who doesn’t often tell that story—he doesn’t want his nephew to be mistaken for cocky.
“It wasn’t arrogance,” Ben Wilson says. “That’s just his makeup. He loves competition, and it doesn’t matter to him what he’s up against.”
If you watched that NFC Championship game two weeks ago, you know where this is going. Somehow, Russell Wilson rebounded in a flash from a four-interception afternoon and rallied his team from a 12-point deficit in the final minutes to earn a return trip to the Super Bowl. ESPN’s win probability bot gave the Seahawks a 3.9 percent chance of winning after Wilson’s fourth interception, trailing 19-7 with 5:04 left. It was pretty much impossible for Seattle to defend its Super Bowl title this week, until it wasn’t.
Wilson, by all accounts, was stoic and reserved up until he broke down in tears and thanked God after the game. It begs the question: Just how does one have such an inflated sense of what he can accomplish on a football field?
Fans who hoped to get a cheap Super Bowl ticket are running out of time, as Super Bowl XLIX might go down as the most expensive ticket in the game’s history.
Why are these tickets so expensive?
The answer lies in what happens behind the scenes with ticket brokers, many of whom promise the tickets in advance figuring they’ll be able to make a healthy profit as the event draws closer.
For the past few years, the Super Bowl has become a lucrative business for ticket brokers, and it’s fairly easy to cash in.
In order to “short” the market, a broker typically lists tickets in a generic section of the stadium and doesn’t disclose exactly where the seats are until the Wednesday before the game, when sites such as StubHub and Vivid Seats require the brokers to choose exact seat locations or cancel the sale.
The idea for the brokers is to take money from ticket buyers when the tickets are at a higher price after the conference title games, then actually buy the tickets days later as the prices start to come down. The ease of the scheme caused more and more brokers to get in the game.
“Everyone in the business had seen that shorting had been the right move,” said a broker who requested anonymity because his company is still short tickets. “For the last five years it had been that way. Everyone was sort of sketched out by Packers. That the ticket could cost a lot of money closer to the game. So the Seahawks win and everyone is undercutting each other just to be able to offer the lowest-price ticket available.”
The confidence in the early market was buoyed by the fact Patriots fans haven’t established themselves as the best travelers in recent Super Bowl games, probably because of the frequency with which the team has played in the game over the past decade and a half. But Seattle fans, who turned out in fewer numbers than expected in New York last year, ended up being an enormous draw this year.
Over the past weekend, the supply on ticket sites suddenly dwindled.
The last time there was a true dynasty in the NFL, the Patriots were dancing around the field in Jacksonville having won their third Super Bowl in four seasons.
A decade later, the Seattle Seahawks have assembled the best nucleus since those early 2000’s Patriots, and the two franchises will meet in a Super Bowl that has the potential to be an old-school passing of the torch.
The Seahawks have all the pieces in place to build a dynasty. They have an owner, Paul Allen, with deep pockets and enough self-control to stay out of football operations. They have a brilliant general manager in John Schneider, who works flawlessly with head coach Pete Carroll to build a team built around speed, length, and creativity. They have a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson and an elite defense led by the “Legion of Boom” secondary.
The Patriots’ dynasty was built similarly. Robert Kraft is a strong owner. Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick worked well together to build the roster. The Patriots had a defense that had a knack for making the league’s best quarterbacks look average. Like Wilson, a young Tom Brady had the talent and charisma to be the face of an elite franchise despite his age.
That’s what makes Super Bowl XLIX so interesting. It’s rare that the Super Bowl pits the old guard against the new super team. It was one thing for the Seahawks to steamroll Peyton Manning and the Broncos last year. If Seattle wants to announce themselves as the next iconic NFL team, they’re going to have to push the Patriots out the door to do it.
Rob Gronkowski was one of the last players to arrive for the Patriots’ early morning Super Bowl XLIX media session Wednesday at their hotel, settling into his seat with a sheepish grin. When the man-child tight end is running late, the mind tends to wander to what he was doing the previous evening.
Was he sampling the abundant nightlife in Scottsdale? Was he imbibing beers at a fraternity? Or how about he was curled up with the Patriots’ playbook? Gronk is the ultimate good-time guy, but he is also a smart guy with near total recall of defensive coverages and encyclopedic knowledge of the playbook.
“He is very studious. He takes his job very seriously,” said fellow tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. “The way the defenses play him is different each and every week, whether it’s single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage. Whatever it is, he can always recall the last team to do it, or if it’s a team that we’re playing, he can recall what they did last time. He’s very good at that.”
If you think the Big Fella just rolls in on Sunday and trashes opposing defenses like a spring break hotel room you’re wrong. You don’t score 55 regular-season touchdowns in 65 games in one of the more intricate offenses in the league with a quarterback who is a perfectionist without having a high football IQ. The Patriots don’t play football for dummies.
Patriots fans looking for a reason to believe that this Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks will be different from the last time the Patriots were in the Roman Numeral Rumble, against the New York Giants in 2012, can point to a healthy Gronkowski, something the Patriots haven’t had in the playoffs since the 2010 season.
The Patriots expect Gronkowski to be the difference-maker he was all season with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, not the hobbled decoy he was in Super Bowl XLVI.
Gronk is a source of fascination because he has a demolition-derby playing style and an “Entourage” lifestyle.
Gronk isn’t the life of the party. The party is his blissful life.
Like most great artists, Gronkowski, 25, is misunderstood. He has become a caricature, Foxborough’s favorite fast-living, football-spiking frat boy.
He comes off as a lovable lug who butchers Spanish (Yo Soy Fiesta), enjoys shirtless dancing, and rolls around in a sports-drink-sponsored bus that is hedonism on wheels.
That party persona overshadows the intelligent, hard-working tight end who has remarkable recall of how defenses try to stop him.
“Not everyone has it. I don’t have it,” said Hoomanawanui. “I can tell you that, truthfully. Seeing all the teams that he has played and the way that they play him it’s pretty miraculous.”
It obviously helps that Gronkowski is a 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound freakish force of nature. But there is a brain that goes with that brawn, and it processes the game quickly.
Tom Brady got a lot of gifts at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day. Drawings. Noodles from a Nickelodeon superhero. Compliments on his hair.
Somebody should’ve slipped the Patriots quarterback a Z-Pak and a Neti pot, too.
Brady sniffled his way through his Wednesday media session at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler and said he’s been dealing with a cold.
Rest easy, New England: Brady will play Sunday.
“I’ve had it for four or five days,” he said. “My kids got sick, and then my wife’s pretty sick right now, so I brought it, unfortunately, to Phoenix. But I’ll be fine. I’ll be good.”
Super Bowl XLIX represents a stage for the reemergence of the Super Coach, a marked departure from the controversy that swirled around the Patriots nearly two decades ago.
The immense – and unusual – authority that Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll possess over their respective rosters represents a striking contrast not only to common practice in the NFL but also to what took place in New England before either Carroll or Belichick became the head coaches of New England.
The issue hovered over Super Bowl XXXI, at times overshadowing the contest between the Patriots and Packers on the game’s greatest stage. And shortly after New England’s loss in the championship game, after Bill Parcells had resigned as coach of the New England Patriots, he offered perhaps the most memorable line in sports history about the working dynamics of a coach and general manager.
“They want you to cook the dinner,” Parcells said on his way out of New England in 1997, “at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
The suggestion reflected an ongoing battle for control of the Patriots in the later stages of Parcells’ sideline stewardship. Though Parcells arrived in Foxborough with primary responsibility for roster and personnel decisions, some of that authority had been channeled to director of player personnel Bobby Grier. Parcells bristled and ultimately navigated his way to the Jets.
his Super Bowl, however, represents an alternate universe from that trip against the Packers. There are no apparent coach vs. front office power struggles.
Instead, the coaches of the Patriots and Seahawks are among the most powerful in sports, two of three (along with Chip Kelly) NFL coaches believed to have final say on roster decisions. The responsibility is so far-reaching that it’s almost unfathomable to others who have roamed the sideline.
“It typically doesn’t work,” said former Ravens coach Brian Billick. “I call it the 3 a.m. rule. What are you thinking about when you wake up at 3 a.m.? Are you thinking about who’s going to go in the flat, how deep do you want a receiver’s route? Well who’s thinking about the cap? Who’s waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about getting a backup center off of free agency and all the other minutia that goes with it?
“This is a multi-dimensional game now,” Billick continued. “Bill Belichick and what he does is unique to it. Most others have crashed and burned. It takes a lot of people to build a village.”
he drama of this year’s Super Bowl goes well beyond the field and up the ranks of organized football. As though having the league’s most charismatic team take on its most hated wasn’t epic enough, the championship match-up is a metaphor for a much larger argument taking place within the NFL.
It’s the crowning game of one of the NFL’s most tumultuous years, with a chain of scandals coming to a head that reveal mass human tragedy inside the league, casting uncertainty on the future of football as a whole. The concussion crisis puts a fine point on the inherent danger of the game, and the league’s ineffective treatment of injured players continues to exacerbate the prescription drug abuse epidemic. In trying to control substance abuse with rigorous drug testing for players, the NFL came under fire for incongruently punishing marijuana users worse than wife-beaters at a time when domestic violence accounts for more than half of all player arrests. The most striking was Josh Gordon’s one-year ban for marijuana, compared to Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for knocking out his fiancee (although both punishments were subsequently reduced and lengthened respectively). And there’s evidence that such violent behavior may stem from repeated concussions. Each finding draws further connections to a common root cause of the NFL’s varied woes — the denial that football is an increasingly unsustainable sport for players’ health.
As the NFL walks the gauntlet of bad press and worse public scrutiny, a growing number of voices point to an obvious singular solution to these problems — medical marijuana. Research shows that cannabis can reduce the severity of concussions and is a safe and non-addictive alternative to opiates for pain management. If the league were ever to allow team doctors to treat players with cannabis, it would mean fewer addictions, fewer brain injuries (and thereby less violent behavior resulting from brain injuries), and of course, no unreasonable penalties for players who choose to use cannabis. Furthermore, it would demonstrate that the NFL prioritizes players’ long-term health over short-term effectiveness. While the NFL has slightly increased the acceptable threshold for marijuana and reduced penalties under their new substance policy, it’s still prohibited and can earn players time in a rehab program, fines, and suspensions. It remains far off from being an accepted medication.
Despite league policies, NFL players continue self-medicate with cannabis in speculatively large numbers. “I’d say, conservatively, that 50 to 60% of players use cannabis,” former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe told the Guardian. His estimate echoes Redskins free safety Ryan Clark (then with the Steelers) who told ESPN’s First Take that at least half the players in the league use cannabis as an alternative to painkillers. “Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves,” Clark said, though he denied using it himself. Former player and current ESPN analyst Lomas Brown made the same estimate in 2012. As medical and recreational marijuana legalization continue to spread throughout the states, that number is bound to go up.
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