During his 15-year NBA career, Matt Barnes developed a reliable game-day routine. First there was the morning shoot-around. Then he’d go home for a rest, where he’d do what so many NBA players do during those long afternoons: nap, shower, eat a meal.
But before all that, he’d smoke a joint.
“It wasn’t every single game, but in 15 years, it was a lot,” Barnes told Bleacher Report in a roundtable discussion about marijuana use in sports published this week.
Any best games?
“All my best games I was medicated,” Barnes said.
Bleacher Report in recent weeks convened multiple gatherings of former NBA and NFL players who use marijuana both for recreational and medicinal purposes, or who want pro sports leagues to relax their restrictions on its use. The publication published the videos – including clips of the ex-athletes smoking – on April 20 (something of a holiday in the cannabis community), saying it’s “time to break the stigma.” Among the players who participated: former NBA players Barnes, Al Harrington, Cuttino Mobley and Kenyon Martin, and former NFL players Shaun Smith, Ryan Clady, Bo Scaife and John Moffitt.
A promo video for the discussions, posted on Instagram, got more than 3 million views in about 24 hours. “Keep fighting the good fight my brothers,” former MVP Kevin Durant wrote in an Instagram comment. Other NBA stars also added supportive comments. And Barnes wasn’t the only ex-player who admitted to game-day use.
“We were playing in Indiana one day, I wasn’t feeling well, I had a hamstring or a hip injury or something,” said Martin, a former NBA All-Star. “So I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So we got to the arena, I was like ‘I feel good.’ I went and told the trainer I’m gonna go today. I went out there and had a great game.”
Smith, a defensive lineman who played nine seasons in the NFL, said in another roundtable that he had a pregame ritual of his own: “Smoke two blunts before every game,” he said.
“When I smoke, I can focus and actually do the job that I have to do,” he said. “It’s like I’m in the zone. I feel like nobody can stop me when I was out there. It mellowed me out, got me going. It’s the best thing for me.”
Smith said he would smoke at home on the morning of games while sitting in a bathtub with Epsom salt, and then would smoke again on his way to the stadium. He also said marijuana use is widespread in the NFL – from captains to quarterbacks, from coaches to personnel employees – and talked about his routine of buying marijuana as soon as he had passed his offseason drug test.
“Pull my phone out, call my plug,” Smith said. “He’s at the house by the time I get out of practice.”
Reports of widespread marijuana use among pro athletes aren’t new, nor are calls for a relaxation of its restriction in sports leagues. Newly retired tight end Martellus Bennett recently told Chris Simms and Adam Lefkoe on their podcast that “about 89 percent” of NFL players use marijuana and that they turn to it as a natural alternative to prescription painkillers. Scaife, who played tight end in the league for six seasons, put the number at about 80 percent. Former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams once estimated that 75 to 80 percent of NBA players use marijuana.
Reports of players smoking on game days aren’t new, either. In 2001, Charles Oakley told the New York Post that “You got guys out there playing high every night,” while estimating that 60 percent of NBA players used marijuana.
But while Oakley made that estimate with disdain, recently retired players have been increasingly outspoken about embracing the potential medicinal and pain-relief benefits of marijuana. Former Ravens lineman Eugene Monroe has been among the most vocal, telling The Post in 2016: “There’s enough anecdotal evidence already to say, ‘Hey listen, we know it’s not toxic. We know it’s safer than what we’re already doing.’ ” Former quarterback Jake Plummer wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated the same year, calling cannabis “an alternative to the harmful narcotics used today by NFL teams who have been reluctant to embrace new research on hemp-based solutions.” Martin told Bleacher Report’s roundtable that he thinks marijuana reduced the pain from his multiple major surgeries, while Barnes said it helped with his back, toe and finger injuries while also helping him sleep.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report that the league is “interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy” of medical marijuana. The NFL, meanwhile, has offered to work with the players association in studying the potential uses of marijuana for pain management. Union chief DeMaurice Smith has talked about finding a “less punitive” approach, saying “ it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.” But Commissioner Roger Goodell has also appeared resistant to major changes.
Marijuana “does have an addictive nature,” he said in 2017. “There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long term. All of those things have to be considered. And it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game.”
The athletes in the Bleacher Report panels, though, argued that use is already widespread despite the league rules – and that talking about it so openly would only help their cause. Barnes said he failed two tests during his career, but used the drug less often during the season, and found ways to pass his tests. He said marijuana helped him deal with his chaotic life in the headlines, and that it helped him focus, calm down and think clearly during his lengthy career.
“It relaxed me, it was something that allowed me to sleep easier, it was something that took pain away – because I’m not really big on alcohol or pain killers,” Barnes said in an interview with the Rich Eisen Show this week. “And it was something that just put me in a different area where I was able to relax and be at peace for a small part of my day.”
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