BOULDER, Colo. — One by one, they entered a nondescript building on the eastern edge of town, 18,000 square feet with no signage out front. They came looking for relief. These nine former professional football players are part of the Denver Broncos Alumni Association. They played in nearly 700 NFL games combined and have enough aches and pains to keep an entire hospital staff busy.
"Every day, I wake up in pain, from my ankles to my neck," said Ebenezer Ekuban, 40, who played defensive end for nine NFL seasons. "It's part of the territory. I know what I signed up for."
Retirement is a daily exercise in managing pain, which is what brought the men to the unmarked CW Hemp offices on a recent Friday for a tour and a firsthand lesson on the potential benefits of the marijuana plant. As the country's discussion on the drug broadens, state laws change and public perception shifts, there's a movement in football circles to change the way marijuana is viewed and regulated within the NFL, which still includes cannabis on its list of banned substances.
For decades, football players have treated pain with postgame beers, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and powerful prescription painkillers. The sport's overreliance on drugs for pain management is the subject of a federal lawsuit and has sparked an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Retired NFL players use opioids at four times the rate of the general population, according to one study, and marijuana advocates say there's a safer, healthier alternative available.