Warriors Coach Tries Medical Cannabis, NBA Freaks Out

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr made waves over the weekend when he said, during a CSN Bay Area Podcast on Friday, that he has consumed medical marijuana for back pain he experienced over the past two years.

“I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this, but I’ve actually tried [marijuana] twice during the last year and a half when I’ve been going through this pain, this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with,” Kerr told host Monte Poole.

According to the interview, Kerr said that after a lot of research and advice, he decided to give cannabis a try – despite not knowing whether or not he would be subject to a drug test, because he is a coach. But still, Kerr tried it.

“And it didn’t help at all,” he said. “But it was worth it, because I’m searching for answers on pain. But I’ve tried painkillers and drugs of other kinds, as well, and those have been worse.”

Kerr would add that, “it’s tricky,” when talking about possible answers to his back problem. The former player-turned-coach underwent two back surgeries last year, which led him to miss the first half of the 2015-16 season. Complications from those surgeries have caused him continuing discomfort.

“I understand that it's a perception issue around the country and the NFL, NBA. It's a business, so you don't want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That's what it is.”
Steve Kerr, head coach, Golden State Warriors

Despite his own disappointing experience, Kerr does believe medicinal cannabis is a better alternative to what professional athletes are being handed for pain today, which is typically a large dose of potentially habit-forming opioids. The former Bulls point guard said that he hopes professional sports leagues soften their stance on cannabis use.

“I’m not a pot person,” Kerr said. “It doesn’t agree with me. I tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you got lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin.”

The NBA, in a statement, said: “All of our coaches are drug tested each season. Marijuana is included on our banned substances list. There are medical exceptions to our policy but, in this case, it’s not relevant because Steve said he did not find marijuana to be helpful in relieving his back pain.”

The league’s statement raised more questions than it answered, though. Kerr lives in California, where medical cannabis is legal but adult-use cannabis won’t be available in retail stores until 2018. Which means Kerr would have had to obtain a California medical card, and purchased from a medical dispensary. The personal efficacy of the medicine, by law, has nothing to do with its status as medical cannabis.

With Growing Support From Owners, NFL Union to Study Medical Cannabis

On Saturday, Kerr said he was surprised by the attention his comments received, but mentioned how important the conversation of pain relief in professional sports is.

“The issue that’s 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 and the NFL, NBA. It’s 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.”

He added, “I’m actually kind of glad it became an issue because I think it’s a very important issue to talk about, having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery back surgery, a lot of pain, chronic pain,” he said.

The Warriors remain top class in the NBA, as they currently sit atop the Western Conference with a 17-3 record. Their next game is set to tip tonight in Oakland, versus the Pacers at 7:30 p.m. (PT).