OAKLAND — Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made waves throughout the NBA world on Friday, when he revealed on Monte Poole’s podcast that he used marijuana in hope of alleviating his back pain.
Kerr had back surgery that held him out of the first third of last season and said he used medicinal pot once or twice. Naturally, being that it’s 2016, the internet exploded with headlines about his usage that reduced his measured reasoning about pain relief into a confession about drug consumption.
Before Golden State’s game against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, he spared no detail in explaining his thought process.
“I was a little surprised about the fact that it became kind of a big deal,” he started. “The conversation was really about pain relief in professional sports. The context of our conversation, my response to your question was about how professional sports should handle pain relief for players. I thought it was interesting because the way the world works and the way the media works now, what is a very serious conversation about pain relief turns into the headline, ‘Kerr smokes pot.’ So I guess that’s the world we live in, that’s fine.
“I’m actually kind of glad that it became an issue, because I think it is a very important issue to talk about, having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery — a lot of pain, chronic pain.
“I had to do a lot of research and you get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet. NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful, that stuff is dangerous: The addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that is really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.
“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. NFL, NBA is a business, so you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. But to me it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine. And again, it’s perception, but I do think it’s a matter of time.
“You can see it with our country, our country is starting to wise up on the medicinal marijuana side. But I hope we can wisen up on the prescription drug side, that’s scary stuff and it’s really not talked about often.”
He skewered big pharma and their marketing techniques, hawking drugs with major side effects as calming, pleasant images dominate the screen.
“I’m always struck whenever I’m home on the couch and some drug commercial comes on and they show these happy people jumping in a lake, you know rowing a boat. And you just wait for the qualifier — ‘side effects include suicidal thoughts, possible death’ — and you’re like, this is insane,” Kerr said. “It really is. And yet the stigma is not on those drugs that are prescribed day and night to anybody who wants it. The stigma is on something that is relatively harmless.”
The current Coach of the Month lamented that his usage of medicinal marijuana didn’t work, saying it offered minimal relief, but that it was “well worth a try.”
“I do find it ironic that had I said, ‘I used Oxycontin for relief for my back pain,’ it would not have been a headline,” he said.
He was especially empathetic to NFL players, who must find a solution for their pain after enduring near-weekly car crashes, as Kerr put it.
Earlier in the day, Kerr’s players jumped to their coach’s defense.
“And when you read Steve’s comments, it makes a lot of sense,” Draymond Green told reporters at shootaround after saying he doesn’t use marijuana, according to ESPN. “When you look at something that comes from the earth, any vegetable that comes from the earth, they encourage you to eat it. So, I guess it does make a little sense as opposed to giving someone a manufactured pill. If something takes your pain away like some of these pills do, it can’t be that good for you.”
Klay Thompson struck a similar cord, saying that there’s “obviously” a medical side to marijuana that should be understood.
Kerr risked a fine by commenting on the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, expressing his belief that the league will soon incorporate medical marijuana into its drug-testing program in years to come. (Although, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told an ESPN reporter that players and coaches can get medical exceptions: “You just tell the league,” he said. “One way to get in trouble is to not allow somebody to do what it is that they need to do to get healthy or do their job. So I’ve got no problem with that.”)
Kerr’s whole point was that education will lead to a more progressive marijuana policy — for athletes and laymen, alike. And if we lived in a parallel universe where everyone thought like Californians, I would generally agree. But with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III tapped to be the country’s next attorney general, I’m not so sure.
Sessions is the same guy who told Congress, “Good people don’t use marijuana,” and “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say, ‘marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.’ ”
So, once again, the Warriors will be at the center of a national discussion. And while I share Kerr’s sentiments and wish we could live in a society that would have more scruples about relying on potentially devastating substances to alleviate pain, I can’t share his optimism about medical pot.
(Which reminds me: Steve Kerr on election of Donald Trump: ‘I thought we were better than this.’)