CHICAGO (AP) — Former NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington looks at Saturday's sports schedule and doesn't see such a spectacular lineup.
He worries that unless the league gets a grip on preventing and treating concussions, someday, the NFL will look a lot like boxing and horse racing look today.
"In 1950, the top three sports were boxing, baseball and horse racing," said Washington, who works with a company that's developing a concussion-treatment drug from medical marijuana. "But boxing and horse racing, they're no longer sports, they're just events. These things tonight, they're just events."
The NFL is still America's most popular sport, as proven by the buzz generated by a draft — a bunch of men on phones, where not a single football is thrown — that has grown into a three-day extravaganza.
But football and its players has been ravaged by concussions — dozens of deaths, thousands of injuries, a billion-dollar lawsuit settlement, everyone from Mike Ditka to President Barack Obama to LeBron James expressing doubts about whether they'd want their young sons to play.
If safety of the players doesn't improve, Washington envisions a day when only kids from poor backgrounds who don't have as many options will populate football rosters.
"You don't see so much boxing in Highland Park and Beverly Hills anymore," he said. "You don't want to see football get to the point where it's something you have to do to get out of the situation you're in."
Washington works with the bio-pharmaceutical and phyto-medical company called KannaLife Sciences that recently received licensing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a drug that would treat concussions using derivatives from medical marijuana.
The NFL hasn't signed on to this research yet, but the league has taken some small steps toward better tolerating marijuana. As part of the most recent drug-testing agreement, the league increased the threshold for a positive marijuana test.
That, of course, wasn't enough to spare two players — Shane Ray and Randy Gregory — from seeing their draft stock slip this week because of pot-related issues. Gregory tested positive at the scouting combine and Ray got cited for possession in Missouri.
"I made a real dumb decision," Gregory said.
Washington doesn't argue with that.
"We're looking at marijuana from the therapeutic side, not the recreational side," he said. "Everyone knows they're still testing for it. If you fail the test, it's like failing an intelligence test. It's your decision-making. I can see why the NFL would be leery of something like that."
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