“When I found what I found in cannabis, I knew I had to get this out there. I knew I had to talk to people about it,” says the former pro-football player
Kyle Turley’s St. Louis connections run deep.
The former NFL All-Pro offensive lineman was traded to the city in 2003, signing a five-year deal with the Rams worth $26.5 million. The contract made him one of the highest-paid players in the league at his position and that season, Turley was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
On its cover, Turley is lowered in the three-point stance, ready to run through anything in his way. The caption WANT SOME OF ME? is splashed across his 6’5,” 309-pound frame. Turley grew up a Rams fan. His family has photos of him when he was around eight years old wearing Rams gear, lowered into that same stance, hopeful of someday realizing his NFL dream.
St. Louis was also “ground zero,” Turley says, for understanding the damage his football dream would cause.
“This is where I got my worst concussion,” Turley tells The GrowthOp on the phone from St. Louis, the morning before appearing on a panel at the MoCannBizCon+EXPO conference. “Football is a car crash every play.”
Turley was concussed and hospitalized after taking a knee to the head. But two days later, he was back in practice, back to contact drills and back to damaging his body, which would lead to a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), early-onset Alzheimer’s and a plethora of other neurological and psychological symptoms caused by repeated head trauma.
Turley retired from football in 2007. An addiction to painkillers followed. As did suicidal thoughts and fits of uncontrollable rage. Turley started treating himself with cannabis and began to question pharmaceutical painkillers, which are approved by the NFL. Even though the NFL bans cannabis use, he went all in as an advocate and business owner. He is the founder of Neuro XPF, a hemp-derived CBD company. And he’s not alone: In the last six years, the number of professional athletes involved with the cannabis industry has exploded. Turley’s explanation for why is simple.
“It works,” he says. “I think the more you can expose this in the real light that it deserves, how it really helps your life, athletes have a platform for that like no other. When I found what I found in cannabis, I knew I had to get this out there. I knew I had to talk to people about it.”
Tackling cannabis stigma
While cannabis and muscle recovery is one side of the equation, Jim McAlpine, who comes from a surfing, skiing and snowboarding background, says that for some athletes, cannabis can also enhance performance.
“Cannabis and action sports go together like peanut butter and jelly,” he says. “For us action sports guys, the way to perform the best is to get into a flow state. Cannabis has been the gateway to get our mind into that state of just being so utterly focused on what we’re doing. It’s the opposite of what people think, that you smoke, get stoned, and sit around. But team sports need that, too, and I think that’s why it’s becoming more accepted across the board in all sports.”
In 2014, in an effort to counter stoner stereotypes, McAlpine founded The 420 Games. Think of it as a travelling, mini-cannabis Olympics. The event is centred around a 4.20-mile run, but has included everything from three-on-three basketball tournaments to stand-up paddleboard races and jiu-jitsu matches.
The event has attracted high profile athletes over the years, including football star Ricky Williams, UFC Middleweight Champion Frank Shamrock and former NBA player Al Harrington.
“When I first started, you know, everybody thought it was crazy,” McAlpine says from his home in California. “And I feel now like five or six years later a lot of people’s eyes have been opened up and I’m really happy to see that the shift in consciousness. General America is starting to understand that marijuana doesn’t mean you’re a stoner, and it can be used by really productive people.”
McAlpine points to two of the world’s greatest athletes as evidence. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, neither of whom are strangers to cannabis.
“You can’t refute athleticism,” McAlpine says. “You can’t refute a world-class athlete.”
Phelps knows first-hand how much the perception of cannabis in sports has evolved. In 2009, while in the midst of becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, a photograph of Phelps holding a bong went viral.
The backlash was immediate and severe. He was suspended by USA Swimming for three months and lost a major sponsor in the Kellogg Company, who had previously featured Phelps on its cereal boxes. The photograph created a spectacle that dragged on for months.
“I felt really bad for him,” McAlpine says. “And I feel bad for all the other athletes who have been pigeonholed in the media for being criminals or bad people for using cannabis. If it happened today, I don’t think it would be nearly as big of a deal.”
Advocacy and opportunity
The proof of that is evident with the sheer volume of athletes who have entered the cannabis industry, without hesitation or backlash. If anything, McAlpine says the cannabis sector may have too many athletes pouring in.
“It’s flooded with too many people right now,” he says. “I think that there are so many athletes coming and trying to do their own brand. I think that when the dust settles, there can’t be everybody and their brother with a brand, so it’s going to come down to the best product, versus putting someone’s name on it.”
The opportunity for business and sponsorship deals doesn’t hurt, Turley says, especially as players enter retirement and try and navigate their financial futures.
“It’s an opportunity for athletes to get your life back and be involved in things that are profitable and to help people,” he says. “You don’t have to be a professional athlete to hit your head or blow your back out.”
Turley predicts that the marriage between athletics and cannabis will strengthen in the years ahead. He believes once advertising restrictions are relaxed on cannabis, there will be another boon of athletes entering the space.
“Look at how big sports have made the alcohol industry,” he says. “And now you’re talking about something that helps people, and doesn’t hurt people? C’mon.”
The evidence of how much the industry has already grown is right in front of him as he speaks from St. Louis’ Union Station, a national historic landmark, and the site of the cannabis conference. Also on the panel is Turley’s former St. Louis teammate, Grant Wistrom, whose company Revival 98 was recently approved for a Missouri cannabis licence.
“I’ve been here in the past for events and it’s a pretty bourgie place and now the whole thing is marijuana,” Turley says. “You walk into the hotel and everything’s weed and it’s kind of crazy to me, but that’s because it’s working.
“This thing’s just getting started.”
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Written by Sam Riches