At this point, it's hard to feel too much sympathy for the Bills. It seems hardly a day goes by without a player getting suspended for some indiscretion. The organization runs a loose ship, with Rex Ryan at the helm. It's a haven for knuckleheads. But the NFL's four-game suspension of Seantrell Henderson seems a bit harsh.
Granted, Henderson has a long history of marijuana use, dating back to his days at the University of Miami. His partying lifestyle was the main reason he slipped to the seventh round of the draft. A four-game suspension means he has at least four violations of the league's substance abuse policy. But the fact that Henderson suffers from Crohn's Disease, an autoimmune disease of the digestive tract, should cause the league to show some mercy in his case.
Several studies show that marijuana can alleviate the symptoms of Crohn's, which include abdominal pain, nausea , diarrhea and inflammation. Henderson was diagnosed with Crohn's late last season and underwent two surgeries during the offseason to treat the ailment. He returned to the Bills recently and was optimistic about the upcoming season.
According to a team source, the Bills have appealed the suspension, seeking a Therapeutic Use Exemption under the league's drug policy. A TUE can be granted if the athlete requires a "prohibited substance to treat an appropriately diagnosed medical problem."
A reduced suspension seems only fair here. Maybe two games. The fact that Henderson has been a marijuana user in the past will not help him in his appeal. Also, while there's much anecdotal evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for Crohn's, its use isn't recognized in official Crohn's literature.
This is further evidence that the NFL is behind the times on the issue of medical marijuana. Many players use the drug to treat pain and there are studies that suggest cannabis extract can be effective in treating the symptoms of concussions -- which should be a much greater concern for Roger Goodell than whether some players smoke a joint to wind down from a brutal Sunday football game.
The NFL needs to get its head out of the dark ages and revise its drug policy to allow medical marijuana and stop policing harmless pot smoking as if it were a threat to society.
The Players Association should make it a priority as well. The union has a reputation for being soft, and it looks weak on the pot issue. If half the players in the league use pot, many for pain relief, the union has to take a stand. They can't allow Goodell to continue his ill-advised crusade against a drug that's being legalized in many quarters and is far less damaging than opiods or alcohol.