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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series stemming from our exclusive interview with Jake Plummer about the drug problem in the NFL, a safe alternative to those drugs, and much more.
As he usually is around this time of year, former Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is on a highway between Colorado and Idaho, heading north. He’s on his way to beautiful Coeur d’Alene, located on the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, in the northern tip of the Idaho panhandle.
It’s a summer trip he’s been taking since he was in the fifth grade. That’s symbolic.
It’s symbolic because Jake Plummer is still Jake Plummer. He’s had a serious hip surgery and deals with sharp aches and pains but the 41-year-old man, who retired nearly a decade ago, has not been compromised by his 10-year career in the NFL.
He’s one of the lucky ones.
Painkiller addiction, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are just a few of the diseases and disorders that are devastating the lives of current and former football players. Every year, Plummer watches as his friends, teammates and colleagues fall upon dark times and into deep addictions due to the effects the game has on the mind and the body, on top of the habits they learned in the league.
It hurts him to watch.
“I have a hard time with it because everybody says, ‘Oh, poor NFL millionaires. Oh, you poor people.’ They don’t understand,” he says to BSN Denver from the highway. “Maybe they should have a little more to say about the owners that are billionaires, they’re not millionaires; they’re billionaires.”
“Like Jerry Jones, who says it’s ‘absurd’ that there would be a link between brain trauma, football and CTE,” Plummer adds. “Shame on him for saying that, that billionaire asshole. It’s the worst thing in the world for a guy like that to say. That’s where we’re sitting; grown-ass men are asked to go out there for millions of dollars—which, yeah, it’s a lot of money—bang themselves around and completely fuck their lives over for their 40s and 50s. So yeah, poor football players is what I say. If you’re a grown-ass man, you should be allowed to make grown-ass decisions.”
Grown-ass men being able to make grown-ass decisions is what Plummer believes in.
“They should be able to say, ‘I’m going to have some CBD and puff on this fatty, relax after a football game and take the pain away,'” he says. “Not get tested for it like Josh Gordon, who now can’t play the game that he’s been playing since he was a kid because he smokes marijuana. It didn’t derail him or cause him to underachieve from what I witnessed. He dominated the league for two straight years, and now he’s out of the league because he chose an alternative form of medicine.”
An alternative form of medicine is what it’s all about.
The aforementioned CBD or Cannabidiol is one of 113 cannabinoids or compounds found in cannabis, the plant, of course, known for producing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. CBD, though, is non-psychoactive as well as non-addictive and non-toxic. It’s a naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory that has also shown to be effective as an antidepressant, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and a neuroprotectant which slows the loss or neurons and protects the brain from traumatic injury and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE.
Plummer takes CBD every day.
Again, though, he’s one of the lucky ones. He can take CBD because he isn’t in the league anymore. He also never developed an addiction to painkillers. CBD contains extremely subtle traces of THC, traces low enough that you would never get high but high enough that an NFL player could be at risk of testing positive for a substance that is still banned by the league.
Current players are left to work with the dangerous substances that are allowed by the league instead, and they can’t afford not to.
“It’s really hard to explain to the outside because it’s like having a job and there’s constantly people coming to take your job,” Plummer explains. “If you’re in pain, and you can’t perform or if you’re not healthy then someone is going to take your job.”
“I know a lot of guys that were using [percosets] and [vicodins] if that’s what they had to do to get through an NFL season,” he adds. “At that point, I wasn’t going to be the guy to say, “Hey man, this stuff is bad for you.” I knew it was; I knew they knew it was but your job is being threatened and you’re going to do whatever it takes. There was, still is and always has been a pretty high use of whatever drug of choice it is to keep you on the field.”
They know it’s bad for you, and while the NFL and NFLPA have come a long way regarding the education of players in terms of what they’re doing to their bodies, it’s not clear if they know exactly how bad for you.
“It’s hard to say that they’re getting information given to them, I don’t know if the head trainer gets up in front of the team and says, ‘Hey, if you get hurt we’re going to be giving you these opioids, and they’re narcotics. It’s basically really nice, really good heroin and we’re going to give it to you so you can go out and actually damage your body even more and we’ll insure you for a few years afterward, but then you’re on your own.'”
Some may know, some may not but either way they take ’em and they take ’em and when they leave the game, they take ’em some more.
“Everybody deals with pain whether you played in the NFL or not, there are a lot of people that are in pain on a daily basis,” Plummer explains. “But the effects that the game has on your body and the effect it has on your brain, we might not be as well suited to deal with that as the rest of normal society. Some of these guys might have some mental problems from banging their heads against each other, and they need that pain to go away. When you’ve been taking these pills for so long, you don’t just take one, you eventually move to two and then three because you don’t feel the same effects of it anymore. That’s the real scary part.”
It turns from taking the pain away so you can play to a full-blown narcotics addiction.
“I’ve known quite a few guys with addictions, they’re not down and out or necessarily on the end of their ropes, but some of them have been,” Plummer says. “Some of them have gone through the rehab process, and they’re doing better now but some of them, to this day, continue to take the pain meds because, to them, it’s what helps dull that pain.”
Now, Plummer is dedicating his days to trying to save his teammates, his friends, and his rivals. Attempting to educate the football community about the uses of CBD as an alternative form of medicine for former players, and ultimately hoping to prove to the league that CBD should be permitted for current players.
Nate Jackson, Jake The Snake’s teammate with the Broncos, introduced him to CBD. He also introduced his quarterback to Ryan Kingsbury and Joel Stanley, two of the many men involved in the Realm of Caring’s “When the Bright Lights Fade” campaign. The group is planning to conduct studies with research universities such as Johns Hopkins in hopes of determining whether CBD can truly help current and former NFL players improve their quality of life and, in some cases, save their lives entirely.
The former pro-bowler is all in.
“This job is amazing, man,” Plummer exclaims vibrantly. “My job is to reach out to old teammates, reconnect and let them know I still care about them, that I still love them. . . I’m excited to reach out to more and more guys, even opponents and all kinds of players that I know are at that point where it’s like, ‘Man, I don’t feel good, and I’d like to feel better.’ All their doctor does for them is give them a laxative or a pill that makes them poop, and they’re taking narcotics so they’ll probably feel better after they poop, but they’re not going to feel better really until they try something different. If CBD is right for them, hopefully they give it a shot, and it’ll do what it’s done for me—help them feel a lot better and just feel good about where they’re at.”
On top of raising money to research the entirety of the effects CBD can have on the adult male When the Bright Lights Fade is hoping to conduct a different study on current players.
“We want to test every single player—if we can—in the NFL this year to see what they supplement,” he says. “What they take, how they feel, how their body reacts, how they sleep, how they recover. Then we can understand how many guys not only smoke marijuana, which is a banned substance—people say 50-percent. How many? I don’t know, but I know it’s out there.”
“I know there are guys that are using CBD in the league, also,” adds Plummer. “There are guys who can think for themselves, who can read something other than an Instagram caption or a tweet. These guys go online, they read, they find something like this, and they feel okay that they aren’t putting their career at risk. They’re taking it already. It just has to be approved, it’s gotta be decriminalized, taken off the banned substance list, which should happen soon, that’ll help out a lot.
It seems obvious.
“I just don’t see anything wrong with allowing grown men to take something that’s going to help them and quite possibly save the game.”
TO BE CONTINUED: In part two of our conversation with Jake Plummer, we’ll address why the league has such a strong stance against marijuana, how long it may take for the league to change, and what Plummer and the rest of the “When the Bright Lights Fade” campaigners are doing to speed up that process.