Athletes are some of the most watched and celebrated humans on the planet. Let’s take a look at five huge sports names that not only had great success in their athletic careers but also have some connection to marijuana.
Some would assert that it is not only a coincidence that some of the world’s top athletes use marijuana, but rather there is a correlation: after all, marijuana does serve as a painkiller and muscle relaxant.
Considered the greatest Olympian of all time from the sheer number of Olympic medals he has won, Michael Phelps is a name that just about everyone knows. He has won 23 gold medals, and 28 Olympic medals overall. This is far more gold medals (or any medals, for that matter) than any other Olympian in history.
A photo of him came out in 2009 in which he is at a party, smoking a bong that is said to have contained marijuana. He released an official, public apology for the indiscretion. As an athlete, sponsorship is everything, and not apologizing could risk losing his many sponsors.
The American public was not bothered by the incident, however, and Phelps continued to awe audiences by winning 12 additional Olympic medals after that (in 2012 and 2016). Phelps won medals in swimming for the Olympic games in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio de Janeiro, although he had also competed in Sydney at the age of 15.
In addition to winning the most medals ever, Phelps was the oldest gold medalist for an individual event in the history of Olympic swimming. This is because he competed in the 2016 Olympics after originally announcing his retirement in 2012, then coming back from retirement four years later. He is the first male American swimmer to be part of five Olympic teams.
Nick Diaz was doing very well in the UFC until he was banned for five years for his use of marijuana. In 2009, when he was 25 years old, he told the LA Times outright that he uses cannabis. He said it made him feel more consistent, given the fact that he has attention deficit disorder.
Diaz has struggled with ADHD since childhood, and he says marijuana has helped him bounce back after dropping out of high school. He had his first professional MMA fight at age 18 and then joined UFC two years after that.
His record with the MMA was impressive, having lost only two fights — both of whom later were shown to have been taking steroids and painkillers.
Diaz has always condoned the use of steroids, saying they aren’t a sustainable way to have a good fighting career, since it is likely to damage muscles (according to Diaz).
Drug testing is often done before and after fights. And when Diaz tested positive, he was suspended.
MMA & Cannabis
He openly admits that he would smoke marijuana the night before every UFC fight, and though some would assert that marijuana consumption is bad for athletes, Diaz claimed it helped his focus.
In his home state of California, medical marijuana was legal. That said, athletic authorities still did not allow the consumption of marijuana for professional athletes.
As a fighter, Diaz has been quite impressive. In addition to MMA training, he competed in triathlons and has a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt.
He was right at the peak of his career when he was banned for 5 years and fined $165,000.
Phil Jackson was considered one of the biggest and most well-known coaches in the history of the NBA. Currently, at age 71, he is the president of the New York Knicks, although his past as a successful coach and professional player is not to be forgotten.
Jackson’s experience with marijuana was to smoke it while he was in recovery from back surgery. He explained it further in detail, saying: “I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever.
But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation”.
In other words, he knew the marijuana helped him, regardless of the whys or hows.
Phil Jackson, Pain & Cannabis
This back surgery took place when he was a player on the New York Knicks. He had to miss the championship season during the years 1969 and 1970 due to the surgery, and it was at this point that he used medicinal marijuana.
Jackson’s resume is an impressive one indeed. He joined the NBA in 1967 and joined the New York Knicks for two winning championships.
Perhaps more impressive still was his coaching prowess; he began his career as an assistant coach in 1987, assisting the Chicago Bulls. He was promoted to head coach in 1989 and helped the Chicago Bulls win six titles and the Los Angeles Lakers win five.
Every single year he coached the Bulls the team made it to playoffs. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. He had the highest career winning percentage during his coaching years.
Jackson retired from coaching in 2011. But has since returned as the Knicks’ president.
Athletes: Usain Bolt
For anyone who has watched the Summer Olympics in recent years, the name Usain Bolt ought to be easily recognizable. He is, after all, the fastest man in the world.
Having that title comes with dozens and dozens of anti-doping tests, of course — Bolt himself estimated 30 or 40 in all during a 2009 interview.
In an interview with the German newspaper, Bild, Usain Bolt admitted that he has smoked marijuana before — during his childhood in Jamaica.
As he said: “when you’re a child in Jamaica, you learn how to roll a joint.” And: “Everyone here has tried it once. I did too — but that was when I was still quite young.” He also asserted that marijuana is no longer part of his lifestyle (proven tenfold by his passed drug tests).
Usain Bolt, Breaking Records & Cannabis
Bolt later apologized for his comments and publicly discouraged others from doing drugs of any kind. His comments sparked some controversy in Jamaica, thus spurring his apologetic remarks.
Usain Bolt began breaking records when he was just sixteen years old. He broke the junior record for the 200-meter dash — that means he was faster than anyone 19 or under.
The following year he was the first teenager to run the same race in under 20 seconds. Bolt is tall (6 foot 5), which surprised many who believe that tall sprinters start slower.
Once he began trying the 100-meter dash, he broke records there too. He excelled at both the 100 meters, 200 meters, and the 4×100 meter relay in the 2008 Olympic Games. Even more impressive were the margins by which he won — he came in first at the 200-meter race by a whopping 0.66 seconds (thus breaking another record).
He continued to break records and win medals in the world championships and Olympics, becoming the first person to win gold medals in three Olympics’ straight for two separate sprints.
Shawn Kemp was a famous basketball player whose prime NBA years were 1989-1997 on the Seattle Sonics, but then also included Portland and Orlando before retiring in 2003.
He was known for his impressive skills and huge size. Ultimate he appeared in 78 NBA games, earned a total of 15,347 points, had 8,834 rebounds, and 1,279 blocks.
Kemp’s time with the Seattle Sonics was impressive, to put it lightly. He, his teammate Gary Payton, and the rest of the Sonics squad had an incredible record — especially for a team that never actually won the championships.
During its six years of excellence, the Sonics reached the conference finals two times and the NBA finals one time. The had the best record in the West four of those seasons and had 357 wins.
The Sonics were known for their personality perhaps even more than their actual playing abilities. Fighting amongst teammates was not uncommon. Shawn Kemp was the most intriguing of all, standing at 6 feet, 10 inches, and having incredible athletic ability.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he had never played college basketball — he simply declared for the 1989 draft. He was chosen by the Seattle Sonics and quickly proved his worth, making it to the All-Star Game by age 23.
Kemp was found possessing marijuana more than once after his retirement from the NBA.