Although cannabinoids are technically banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), there are still plenty of athletes who smoke. In many cases, these athletes face discrimination largely due to the stigma surrounding recreational cannabis.
The stigma athletes face varies by race, gender, and even sport. Negative attitudes and biases against cannabis reinforce the idea that athletes who smoke perform poorly.
Here’s what you should know about the social stigma surrounding cannabis in sports.
Perception of Cannabis in Different Sports
Until it’s been legalized on a federal level, there won’t be enough research to fully understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of cannabis use in athletes. That being said, existing literature strongly suggests that the use of cannabinoids can reduce inflammation, help manage chronic pain, and more!
Despite the promising evidence, though, many sports have negative perceptions of cannabis and view athletes who smoke it — or use it at all — with similar disdain.
In particular, weight-class athletes — such as wrestlers and lightweight rowers — constantly consider their weight. The perception that smoking causes weight gain — contrary evidence notwithstanding — elicits a fear that keeps these athletes away from it.
In other sports, though, cannabis use is more acceptable. For example, in baseball, chewing tobacco plays an important role in the game’s culture. Recreational cannabis isn’t too far from tobacco, so there tends to be less stigma that surrounds athletes who smoke marijuana.
Fighting the stigma in sports will require a shift in sports culture, the responsibility of which will fall mainly to coaches and governing bodies. Coaches can pave the way toward acceptance within teams, while governing bodies can do so on a regional or national level.
Male & Female Athletes Who Smoke
Gender also plays a role in the cultural acceptance of cannabis use. For male athletes who smoke, it’s just “boys being boys,” but when female athletes smoke, it turns into, “Why aren’t you taking better care of your body?”
Of course, this speaks to a larger double standard that’s rooted in sexism. Society perceives women who smoke as leading a risky or dangerous lifestyle. These negative perceptions have teeth, and it shows.
When I was in college, I was an athlete at Tufts University who smoked marijuana. Although I quantitatively outperformed my teammates on the field due to superior nutritional and lifestyle habits, I was still kicked off the team for cannabis use.
Had I been a male athlete, I would likely have been given support and kept my spot on the team. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, so I was left out in the cold. I was ostracized by my so-called teammates, without any mental health support.
It was not the experience I’d hoped for, but in the end, it taught me a valuable lesson about double standards when it comes to cannabis.
To combat the sexism that affects female athletes who smoke, education is crucial. By demonstrating the recovery benefits of cannabis to coaches and athletes, we can begin to break the stigma. Doing so will create new opportunities for women in sports.
A Racial Divide Among Athletes Who Smoke
As a light-skinned person of color who’s not often recognized as a person of color, I have a unique perspective on the role of race in cannabis and athletics. In many sports — especially basketball and football — the perception is that if you’re Black, you probably smoke marijuana.
Assumptions of this nature reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate racism. If we can change these predispositions, we can benefit athletes who smoke and communities of color at the same time.
Despite white and Black communities using marijuana at the same rates, a person of color is nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession. To start, passing decriminalization and expungement laws would cease punishment for these minor offenses.
Unfortunately, most people don’t even know that resources are available to those who have been convicted of cannabis crimes. Simply providing education about helpful organizations and other resources that serve people of color helps to support these communities.
Fighting the Stigma in Cannabis & Athletics
At the end of the day, our biggest tool in fighting stigma is education. Once more-extensive research has been conducted, we’ll have more information at our fingertips to show how beneficial cannabis really is.
By breaking down walls and fighting the stigma, we can transform the culture of sports into one that’s more friendly to athletes who smoke.
Are you looking to fight the stigma surrounding legal cannabis? Reach out and we can help!