Not long ago, whenever professional athletes dabbled with marijuana, it was bad news: multigame suspensions, ruined careers, endless stoner jokes. Not anymore. Just take a look at this week’s Sports Illustrated, which dedicated its cover story to former NFL running back Ricky Williams’ relationship with cannabis. Williams’ 11 NFL seasons were marked by repeated suspensions for positive marijuana tests, hand-wringing, and forced contrition; now the big story is that Williams has become an outspoken marijuana advocate and co-founder of the world’s first cannabis-friendly gym, Power Plant Fitness and Wellness.
Williams is far from the only big-name sports superstar, former or current, coming out of the cannabis closet. That’s despite the fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which prohibits not just performance-enhancing drugs, but any substance it considers a health risk or violation of the spirit of sport, still bans marijuana. All major U.S. pro sports leagues still punish players for marijuana use (with the notable exception of the NHL, which doesn’t include cannabis on its list of banned substances.) And never mind that the jury is still out on whether marijuana helps or hurts athletic performance and recovery. (What is clear is that lots of players use pot to ease injuries, and in some ways that could be safer than the potentially addictive painkillers they’ve long been prescribed.)
It’s hard to miss the hypocrisy of pro sport leagues’ stance on cannabis when the major leagues accept billions in advertising and sponsorship deals from the alcohol industry. (Bud Light alone has a $1.4 billion six-year deal with the NFL.) This attitude is also out of step with how most Americans feel about the issue. Nearly 75 percent think pot is less harmful than booze, and a record-high 61 percent say it should be legal.
While the suits in the front offices and the scientific community might be dragging their heels on shifting marijuana’s place in the world of sports, athletes themselves are taking the ball and running with it. Here, the top 18 athletes known for their connections to marijuana — in a good way.