“It’s a business” is usually just the tired refrain of talking heads when a team cuts ties with a fan favorite, or a big-time free agent chases the money. At its most innocent, the phrase reminds us that money is, in fact, an option and not every team can operate on a herculean, Yankees-sized budget. But, at it’s worst, it can be a way of deflecting attention when management makes a questionably cutthroat move in the name of dollars and cents.
But make no mistake about it, owners and players alike are all business-people, and one thing the entire business world has their eye on is the growing marijuana industry. Sports folk are no different. They want in.
Nine U.S. states have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use, making up the bulk of a $9.7 billion market. With Canada also having now legalized the beloved left-hand cigarette and plenty more U.S. states in the process of doing so, that market is expected to increase, and of course, so will the number of folks wanting to get a piece of the action.
Really, many athletes have always wanted in. The cannabis industry has had many (cough, cough) player ambassadors over the years. Ever since a marijuana plant accidentally found its way into what would later be known as the grooviest bonfire of all time, a sizable subset of the population has been keen on the electric lettuce. But players have been forced to keep their affinity for ole’ Johnny Red Eye under wraps even more than the rest of us. Individual leagues, particularly the NFL, have adopted a pretty no-nonsense approach to sanctioning its use out of their leagues, doling out unnecessarily long suspensions for any positive tests. As it stands, all it takes is one suspiciously innovative food pairing and the NFL is at your door with a cup to make sure you haven’t been indulging in any sticky, icky pain relief.
At this point, the leagues still need to seriously iron out how to adjust their own cannabis-related regulations in the wake of changing cannabis laws around North America. Unfortunately, this means current players may just have to wait this one out. But, as the time left to be on the cutting edge runs out, those sports figures who aren’t currently playing and don’t have to wait, have been striking while the proverbial nail is hot. Here are some of our favorite sports ganja-preneurs.
Uncle Spliffy/Cliffy: Cliff Robinson
When it comes jumping in on the marijuana business, former all-star Cliff Robinson really, really went for it. When he was the sixth man on the 1989 and 1991 Blazers teams that made it to the NBA Finals, he was known as “Uncle Cliffy.” But in early 2016 he rolled out a plan to seek startup capital for his company…wait for it…UNCLE SPLIFFY.
Where he’s at in the process now is anyone’s guess, but his grand design was to develop a marijuana business dedicated specifically for athletes. He very well may have been onto something. Topicals have proven to be excellent for the types of joint pain that often ail athletes, and having an athlete like Cliff to market them combined with a stoner-friendly name really does have potential. Unfortunately, it seems like the dream of Uncle Spliffy may be dead, as the site has been taken down and the Twitter account has been abandoned since July 2016. But fortunately for all of us, now going by ‘Uncle Cliffy” again, he has taken a more modest approach in the past year and is selling a line of pre-rolled joints in dispensaries around the Pacific Northwest.
Folium Biosciences: Rick Barry
The only thing leading anyone to believe Rick Barry is an odd fit for the marijuana game is his looks. Judging purely by looking at him, you might peg him for a GOP congressman. But consider three things:
- He played the better part of a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- He was drafted in 1965, the era everyone wishes they were smoking in.
- He shot his fucking free throws underhand.
We should really just be surprised it took him this long. Barry spoke at the 2017 O’Cannabiz Cannabis Expo in Toronto, describing legalization as “an incredible opportunity for people to get involved in a business, to be able to make some money and really be doing some good for people.” He spoke at the event as an ambassador of Folium Biosciences, a bulk CBD oil producer/distributor that seeks to deliver the therapeutic benefits of CBD without the high that smoking or vaporizing brings with it. His involvement in the industry is missing some of the shtick that a name like “Uncle Spliffy” brings to the table, but we’re all glad to see Barry fighting the good fight.
Floyd’s Of Leadville: Floyd Landis
The story of Floyd Landis is a long one. In short, most know him best for having his 2006 win at the Tour de France voided for two drug tests suggesting he had been doping. He was also the whistle-blower who called attention to systematic doping and fraud within the USPS cycling team, leading to the public demise of Lance Armstrong. His career pivot to NASCAR was cut short by federal investigations into computer hacking and fraud allegations against him. With that, it says a lot that his new business venture, Floyd’s of Leadville, is even worth mentioning.
These days, like Barry, Floyd Landis is pedaling CBD. Like any dedicated athlete, he’s been through it when it comes to lasting injuries. And like many, doctors had led him to believe that opioid painkillers were his best option for both the injuries he was still dealing with and the depression that had overcome him in the wake of the investigation. As a resident of Colorado, he was one of the first to have CBD at his disposal and immediately felt in control of his pain as well as his mental health.
In an effort to pass this feeling on to others, and undoubtedly cash in on an opportune time to make some coin, he founded Floyd’s of Leadville, a CBD product manufacturer based in Colorado. Their online shop lists everything from traditional CBD oil tinctures to CBD-infused protein blends designed for muscle recovery. For now, Floyd’s of Leadville is selling the lion’s share of their products online or in retail cycling shops, but they’re legal in all 50 states because they are hemp-based rather than marijuana-based, so I’d expect this to trend upward.
Nellie Kush: Don Nelson
Don Nelson has been living his absolute best life since he last coached in 2010. I can’t stand the phrase, but it’s exactly what he’s doing. Not that he didn’t have fun while doing it, but it was after 48 years of being so intimately involved with the NBA as both a player and coach that he really started to have fun with it.
The man, at 78 years young, set the internet on fire when he first sported his new look after Steve Nash brought him up during his Hall of Fame induction speech. He had shed some pounds, grown out his hair, and made himself into a much more endearing version of Mac’s dad from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” To be clear, none of this is in jest. He genuinely looks healthier and happier, which is for the best and that goes without saying. But boy did he steer into the “later-in-life bad boy” skid. These days he’s living in Hawaii, growing his own strain of marijuana, and playing poker games with celebs like Willie Nelson.
As is the case with so many former players getting into the marijuana business, for Nellie, it also boiled down to the uneasiness he felt being dependent on opioids. Some really have no interest in the “getting high” aspect of therapeutic marijuana use, but Nelson raves about the Hindu Kush/O.G. Kush hybrid you’ll find on his home farm. “Nellie Kush” as he calls it, while not available in dispensaries, is enough to make him into a cultural icon for the movement to legalize marijuana, and I would be remiss not to mention him here.
Real Wellness: Ricky Williams
The cynic could question the true motivations of just about anyone trying to enter the legal marijuana sphere. Are some of them just trying to make a quick buck? Probably. Just trying to push themselves into the limelight with a quirky new business venture? Maybe.
But for Ricky Williams, there should be no doubt that his heart is in this. As a player, he claims to have left anywhere from five to 10 million dollars on the table between endorsements and forfeited salary in his career, all of which he attributes to his unapologetic marijuana use. All in all, he failed four drug tests, but also rushed for over 10,000 yards in spite of sitting out an entire season while avoiding suspension related to failed drug tests.
If they placed odds on this kind of thing, the “yes” on “will Ricky Williams involve himself with the marijuana business immediately after retiring” would have been a prohibitive favorite. His company, Real Wellness, where he is “Brand Leader” seeks to incorporate all kinds of herbs, cannabis included, into the daily routine of their customers. Embracing all types of non-traditional therapy (Williams is currently pursuing a doctorate in Chinese Medicine, per the Real Wellness website), they offer all kinds of salves, tinctures, and herbs. But, believe it or not, Williams’ signature product is a seasonal blend THC cartridge.
The common thread with all of the above isn’t hard to spot. It’s irresponsible to deny the public access to alternative pain relief in the face of such a raging opioid crisis like we’re fighting today. But it’s even more irresponsible to deny cannabis from a group that so obviously stands to gain so much from having it available to them. When these former athletes say they hope to alter, improve, and save lives with their work with cannabis, they aren’t exaggerating.
Sure they’re making money with what they’re doing. It’s business. But don’t let it get lost in the echo-chamber in which we often find ourselves that there are still many, many people out there who don’t believe in the recreational value of marijuana, let alone the therapeutic value. These athletes are going out on a limb when they could be spending their retirement taking it easy, and for that they deserve to be mentioned in the conversation of advocate-athletes.