In a move that underscores the NFL’s ongoing rejection of medical cannabis, the league’s top brass on Tuesday announced the suspension of Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson for 10 games, citing his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
The suspension is a big blow to Henderson the future of his career. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in the middle of last season and has been using medicinal cannabis as part of his treatment regimen. He’s since played in only one preseason game and one regular-season game, having also lost significant weight.
The league notified the Bills organization of Henderson’s suspension on Tuesday, the team said. It’s Henderson’s second suspension this year. He served a four-game ban at the beginning of the season, also as the result of his medical cannabis use.
Brian Fettner, Henderson’s agent, called the league’s decision “heartbreaking,” pointing out that Henderson can’t appeal the suspension, because the NFL doesn’t allow an exemption for medical marijuana use.
“His situation is unique, but the drug policy doesn’t line up with the uniqueness. It’s disappointing,” Fettner said.
“The reality is, the NFL’s position has been if you need medical marijuana, then you’re too sick to play,” he added. “But that’s just not the case for Seantrel Henderson.”
The former Miami Hurricanes star will now sit out the final five games of the season. His suspension will carry over into either the playoffs, if the Bills were to make it, or next season. According to Fettner, Henderson is considering taking legal action.
Henderson’s suspension should come as no surprise to football fans, however. In 2016 alone, there have been 26 NFL players suspended for a violation of the substance abuse policy. Below is a list of NFL players who were suspended this year because of substance abuse, with data used from Spotrac.
|Josh Gordon||WR||CLE||$251,389||Violating the NFL's substance abuse policy||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Martavis Bryant||WR||PIT||$709,805||Violating the league's substance abuse policy multiple times||16||Week 1 - Week 16|
|Silas Redd||RB||WAS||$525,000||Violating the league's substance abuse policy||0||Week 0 - Week 0|
|Le'Veon Bell||RB||PIT||$154,247||Violating the league's substance abuse policy||2||Week 1 - Week 2|
|Taylor Mays||SS||CIN||N/A||Violating the league's substance abuse policy||8||Week 1 - Week 8|
|Nick Moody||ILB||SEA||N/A||Violating the league's substance abuse policy||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Karlos Williams||RB||BUF||$136,197||Violating substance abuse policy||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Kenny Vaccaro||SS||NO||$705,593||Substance Abuse (adderall)||4||Week 0 - Week 0|
|Karlos Williams||RB||PIT||N/A||Substance Abuse||10||Week 12 - Week 17|
|Jason Jones||DE||MIA||$169,741||Substance Abuse||2||Week 12 - Week 13|
|Alan Branch||DT||NE||$407,352||Substance Abuse||4||Week 12 - Week 15|
|Rolando McClain||ILB||DAL||N/A||Substance Abuse||0||Week 11 - Week 16|
|Trent Williams||LT||WAS||$2,517,647||Substance Abuse||4||Week 9 - Week 12|
|Randy Gregory||OLB||DAL||$510,018||Substance Abuse||10||Week 5 - Week 14|
|Randy Gregory||OLB||DAL||$216,757||Substance abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Seantrel Henderson||RT||BUF||$144,169||Substance Abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Rob Ninkovich||DE||NE||$1,058,823||Substance Abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Sammie Lee Hill||DT||TEN||N/A||Substance Abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Damion Square||DE||SD||$170,588||Substance abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Marcell Dareus||DT||BUF||$3,035,294||Substance Abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Shiloh Keo||SS||DEN||$89,411||Substance Abuse||2||Week 1 - Week 2|
|Marqueston Huff||FS||TEN||$41,547||Substance Abuse||1||Week 1 - Week 1|
|Rolando McClain||ILB||DAL||$1,176,470||Substance Abuse||10||Week 1 - Week 10|
|Darren Waller||TE||BAL||$130,064||Substance abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
|Will Hill||SS||BAL||N/A||Substance Abuse||10||Week 1 - Week 10|
|Aaron Lynch||OLB||SF||$152,824||for violating the leagues Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse||4||Week 1 - Week 4|
This list of players suspended for substance abuse comes just days after both the NFL league offices as well as the player’s union announced they will be studying cannabis for pain-management.
“We are actively looking at the issue of pain management of our players. And studying marijuana as a substance under that context is the direction we are focused on,” George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, told the Washington Post.
Changes to the current drug policy would need to be agreed upon by the league and the NFL Players Association, either as part of future collective bargaining or as a separate policy.
According to reports from the NFL, several league executives said the NFL should “follow the country” in the changing attitudes about cannabis use. It helps with high-profile suspensions like the ones of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and former Nebraska star and current Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory have also raised more awareness about the issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.