Criticism of Ryan Clark misses the point

PITTSBURGH -- The surest sign that Ryan Clark received a significant amount of blowback after he frankly discussed marijuana use in the NFL is that the Steelers safety took to social media to clarify what he had said.

"I don't smoke marijuana. I won't smoke marijuana," Clark wrote Thursday afternoon on his Twitter account. "The NFL shouldn't push marijuana but I'd be a fool to say that people don't use it."

Those who criticize the outspoken Clark are missing the message and hitting the messenger.

That a significant number of players need some sort of medicine to get from Sunday to Sunday -- or Sunday to Thursday, an absurd turnaround between games in a league that is supposedly all about player safety -- is an inconvenient truth.

The reality is we don't want to know what it takes for players to get through a season of countless collisions any more than we want to know what went into the making of the hot dogs and hamburgers that are sold at NFL stadiums.

When Clark advocated that the NFL stop testing for marijuana because it was a waste of time and resources that predictably raised some hackles. What may have gotten lost is Clark's point that some players use marijuana to help them deal with pain because they view it as a safer alternative to prescription pain pills, which can be highly addictive.

Those that scoff at this as rationalizing the use of an illegal (well, in most states) drug I ask this: Isn't it a tad hypocritical to cheer violent hits and encourage players to have little regard for their own bodies and then then tell them how they can or can't deal with the pain?

Also, is the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes any worse than pain pills or does one simply carry the stigma of social taboo?

Like Clark, I am not advocating the use of marijuana in the NFL, and I totally get that the line between medicinal and recreational use of the drug can be blurred and blatantly manipulated. But more research needs to be gathered on the issue, something commissioner Roger Goodell seems willing to do, if a little reluctantly.

Frank discussion like what Clark engaged in Thursday is also necessary.

That Clark felt the need to say, via Twitter, that he is not pothead shows how nuanced this issue truly is.

It also illuminated how there needs to be much more understanding of it as players try to manage their pain so we can cheer them on Sundays.