Giants legend Leonard Marshall served as Keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition on Thursday at the Jacob Javits Center. Marshall and other former NFL players were in Manhattan to advocate for the use of medical marijuana to help deal with football injuries.
“Now I knew what I was signing up for,” Marshall told the audience about the start of his career. “I knew that I was going to try to play 10 years. I was going to try to play with two of the greatest linebackers that ever played the game in Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor, and a great quarterback and a young man by the name of Phil Simms who now works for CBS, who we get a chance to see a few times a year. But what I didn’t know is that in the curse of my career, winning championships, becoming a Hall of Fame football player, playing with all these great athletes, having a great time doing it, that I was going to come to know this three-letter acronym called CTE.”
The two-time Super Bowl champion, who was diagnosed with the disease, thought that as a player his helmet made him invincible. “While playing the game with this helmet, you’re more or less a gladiator,” Marshall said. “This is your tool, this is your weapon and you’re supposed to use this weapon to the best of your ability. Coaches taught players back in my era to utilize this just as such. To maim a player, to injure a player, to intimidate a player. This was your sword as a gladiator.”
Other retired players at the Javits Center were Bears QB Jim McMahon, Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, Broncos wide receiver Charlie Adams, Jaguars offensive tackle Eben Britton, and NHL enforcer Riley Cote.
McMahon was diagnosed with early onset dementia five years ago. There was a lot of neck trauma, including a broken neck suffered in a game even though nobody told him about it. McMahon smoked to deal with the injuries. “I got into using cannabis well before it was legal, but I enjoyed it,” McMahon said. “I had a friend using 1,500 painkillers a month. I wasn’t nearly that high.”
McMahon had been popping a lot of pills due to the whopping 18 surgeries he had over the course of his career and all the time spent in rehab. Even five years after his retirement the popular Super Bowl champion was still taking a lot of pills. “Get off the pharmaceuticals. They’re killing people,” McMahon said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from these things and not one case of people dying from the hemp plant.”
Marshall estimated that about 40 percent of the Giants were using cannabis in the ‘80s until the league implemented a substance abuse policy which included marijuana. “I had a player that got involved in the white powder and became public about it,” Marshall said. “It got so bad that we didn’t even have alcohol on the plane after a game.”
Nate Jackson is the author of Slow Getting Up: A Story of Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, and wants the NFL to allow players to use marijuana. Jackson first used before his freshman year of high school, a month before he started playing. He suffered his first concussion in high school and his next concussion towards the end of his career, but credits cannabis as the reason that it wasn’t worse. “I believe that cannabis protected my brain in advance of those injuries and allowed me to heal fast and avoid brain trauma,” Jackson said. “I never got caught up in the pills. It just didn’t sit well in my system so I was always experimenting with it, tinkering with it, especially when I would get injured, but it was in the shadows.”
The league might worry about the image of the NFL if they started allowing marijuana usage, but for a league dealing with the fallout from a major concussion lawsuit, they may have to look for new options to protect players.