Weed’s bumpy history in sports

Athletes have been penalized for weed since 1970s



Weed has a storied history in sports, often the culprit of athlete suspensions.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Cannabis and sports have a complicated history grounded in prejudice and privilege.

At the forefront of this conversation is the situation of Sha’Carri Richardson, the American sprinter who was not allowed to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics after she failed a drug test for smoking weed to cope with the death of her mother, according to a Yahoo Sports article. Richardson heard of the death of her mother from a reporter. After hearing this devastating news, Richardson turned to cannabis to cope with her loss. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency then barred Richardson from competing in the Tokyo games because she tested positive for THC. 

Richardson’s situation was revisited by the public during the 2022 Winter Olympics when 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva failed a drug test for trimetazidine — a performance-enhancing drug. Despite failing the drug test and initially being barred from competing, the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed Valieva to compete.

“Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mine? My mother died, and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady,” Richardson wrote in a tweet in response to the Valieva decision

In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency published a paper in the Sports Medicine journal that criticized the use of weed in sports. The paper presented three reasons for why cannabis is banned: (i) athletes that use weed may have slowed reaction times and loss of executive function, (ii) based on interviews and animal studies, cannabis may be performance-enhancing and (iii) athletes are role models and using cannabis is a betrayal of the spirit of the sport. 

A University of Michigan school of medicine article points out that reasons one and two are contradictory and reason three is culturally rooted in the politically and socially-questionable War on Drugs. 

SB Nation lays out a fascinating timeline of weed and sports.


February 1995- Warren Sapp was favored to be the No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, but, after failing a drug test for cannabis at the NFL Scouting Combine, he dropped to No. 13 when he became a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wound up playing for 13 seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

May 1996- Randy Moss lost a college scholarship at Florida State University because of a failed drug test for cannabis. When he got to the NFL, he won offensive Rookie of the Year and became a first ballot Hall of Famer.

2009-2014- Former NFL offensive lineman Eben Britton said in a 2016 New York Post article that he played stoned on occasion.

“NFL games I played stoned were some of the best games I ever played. Cannabis cements your surroundings,” Britton said in the article. “A lot of people say they’re useless when they smoke weed. But hell, I played NFL games [while stoned], dude. My performances were solid, and I felt really good after.”

February 2014- As a signal of political and cultural shifts, Super Bowl 48 was a contest between two teams from states that legalized weed. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, respective states of Washington and Colorado, voted to legalize weed in November 2012. 

April 2016- Political shifts did not mean the minds of NFL executives had changed. Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil was a projected top ten pick in the draft. However, on draft night, someone posted a video of him smoking weed from a gas mask. Tunsil fell to No. 13 Tunsil began his career as a reliable starter for the Miami Dolphins.

2012-2021- NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended six times for cannabis use. 


1971- One of the earliest prominent appearances of cannabis in sports is a situation recounted by Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Walton’s ex-wife, Susie Walton, in an interview with The New York Times. In the interview, Susie said that UCLA head coach John Wooden only allowed Walton to smoke weed and prohibited any other player from smoking it. Wooden denied this allegation.

November 1996- Two days prior to his first game as a Trail Blazer, JR Rider was cited for smoking weed out of a soda can by the Clackamas County, Ore., Sheriff’s office.

November 2002- After beating the Seattle Supersonics, Trailblazers Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire decided to drive back to Portland by themselves. They were pulled over in Washington for driving 84 in a 70 mph zone. During the traffic stop, officers discovered less than 40 grams of weed in the car. Wallace and Stoudamire denied the allegations, and charges were dropped.

1997-2014- Current Portland Trailblazers coach Chauncey Billups told the Washington Post in a 2016 interview that players who smoked weed prior to game played better.

“They played better like that. Big-time anxiety, a lot of things can be affected — [weed] brought ’em down a bit. It helped them focus a little bit on the game plan. I needed them to do that. I would rather them do that than, sometimes, drink,” Billups said in the article.


At some point in the 1980s, the Formula 1 racer James Hunt outran three police cars in Scotland because he had weed in his car.

2009- Even the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps is not untouched by cannabis after a picture of him using a bong at a University of South Carolina party was released by the British tabloid News of the World.