Mar 8, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

Happy Friday! Already looking forward to melting into the couch tomorrow night...

  • Duke at UNC, 6pm ET (ESPN)
  • Michigan at Michigan State, 8pm ET (ESPN)
1 big thing: Where the NHL and others stand on weed

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The public perception of marijuana is changing, and with more and more athletes accepting the idea of cannabis as medicine, professional sports leagues — and their drug policies — are being put under the microscope.

Why it matters: Of the 123 teams across the four major sports, 45 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (36.6%), and another 56 play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (45.5%), per ESPN.

  • That's 82% of teams (101 of 123) that play in areas where players can legally buy pot — and that number will only increase as more states move forward with legalization.

What's happening: In the the face of this dramatic shift, some leagues — worried about what "endorsing weed" might do to their image — are hesitant to change their policies. Others, like the NHL, are completely rethinking their approach.

Marijuana policies

NFL: Players with no previous violations are tested just once in the offseason. During the regular season, 10 players per team are randomly selected each week.

  • Punishment: 1st positive test: Enter substance abuse program. 2nd: Fined two game checks. 3rd: Fined four game checks. 4th: Four-game suspension. 5th: 10-game suspension. 6th: Banned for a year.

NBA: No offseason tests. During the regular season, players are subject to four random tests.

  • Punishment: 1st positive test: Enter substance abuse program. 2nd: $25,000 fine. 3rd: Five-game suspension, and five more games are added to each ensuing positive test.

MLB: Use of marijuana is prohibited, but the league only tests for it if they have "reasonable cause" to do so.

  • Punishment: "If a player tests positive, he might be subject to a treatment plan that can include progressive fines of up to $35,000 for one test," writes ESPN's Emily Kaplan.

And then there's the NHL, which doesn't punish players who test positive for marijuana (which it no longer classifies as a banned substance). Instead, the league focuses on identifying those who need help and ensuring that they get it.

  • If a player has "abnormally high levels" of THC, league physicians will flag it and recommend treatment. But again, there's no punishment — and neither the NHL nor the NHLPA needs to know about it.

What they're saying:

"We are elite athletes and as long as it's not performance-enhancing or illegal, we know what's best for our own bodies. I find that a couple hits of weed at night is good for me. It's legal, it's natural, I don't see anything wrong with it."
— Anonymous NHL player (via ESPN)

What's next: "The NFL's CBA expires after the 2020 season, and it's believed the drug policy will be a major discussion point," writes Kaplan.

  • "The NFLPA probably will argue for something similar to the NHL's policy — test for marijuana, but don't punish it — and it will be worth monitoring if the NFL agrees."

P.S. Suspended Cowboys DT David Irving quit the NFL yesterday — while smoking a blunt.

2. 🏈 Another fun night on the internet

Photo: Joe Sargent/Getty Images

This is what I have to deal with.

  • 11:28pm ET: "Sources: Steelers are closing in on a deal to send star WR Antonio Brown to the Buffalo Bills." (NFL Network's Ian Rapaport)
  • 11:45pm: "While several teams had leapt to the forefront ... the Bills were stealth. There are things to work out, but Buffalo is on its way to getting AB." (Rapaport)
  • 12:13am: "Bills' Super Bowl odds improve to 60-1 after reported Antonio Brown trade" (Bleacher Report)
  • 1:27am: "Bills reportedly agree to trade for Antonio Brown; Packers were 'interested'" (SB Nation)


  • 3:26am: "Steelers and Bills briefly talked but this is an old story. It was dead on Wednesday." (ESPN's Adam Schefter)
  • 3:35am: "Sources: Deal for Antonio Brown to Bills 'not even close'" (ProFootballTalk)
  • 7:15am: "Antonio Brown trade to Bills not happening, Buffalo GM says" (Bleacher Report)

P.S. Speaking of trades, here's one that actually happened: Broncos QB Case Keenum is headed to the Redskins in exchange for two late-round picks. This is his sixth city in six years.

3. 🏀 Tacko Fall can ball

7'6" Tacko Fall was reunited with his family during UCF's Senior Night last night. Photo: Alex Menendez/Getty Images

In 2012, 16-year-old Tacko Fall left Senegal to attend high school in the U.S. "Basketball and school, that was the plan," said Fall, who had never played the sport before his arrival.

Fast-forward: Seven years later, the 7-foot-6 Fall is finishing up an impressive career at UCF, where he has led the Knights to three of the five best seasons in program history. They're currently ranked No. 25 after beating No. 8 Houston over the weekend.

  • Last night, Fall was reunited with his mother and brother for the first time since leaving home. He and his teammates responded by beating No. 20 Cincinnati 58-55 — the first time UCF has ever knocked off two ranked teams in a season.

By the numbers:

  • At 7-foot-6-inches, Fall is the tallest basketball player in college or the NBA and the same height as Yao Ming. When he dunks, his feet barely leave the floor.
  • He's made 74.0% of his career field-goal attempts, putting him on track to shatter the all-time record of 67.8% set by Oregon State's Steve Johnson in the early 1980s.

What's next: The NBA no longer has room for slow-footed big men, so "Fall's basketball legend might come down to the next few weeks," writes The Ringer's Rodger Sherman. I'll be rooting for him.

4. 💰 How college football programs make and spend money
Expand chart
Adapted from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics revamped its College Athletics Financial Information Database, an interactive tool that lets you track the money in college sports.

Go deeper.

5. ⚾️ Tampering shmampering

Photo: Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Bryce Harper has the baseball world in a tizzy again — this time for potentially violating the league's anti-tampering rules.

What's happening: Harper told a radio station in Philadelphia that he'd be actively recruiting Mike Trout to join the Phillies once he hits free agency in 2020 and called anyone who thinks he'd do otherwise "crazy."

  • When given a chance to backpedal on his comments, Harper chose not to, saying, "If I didn't mean it, I wouldn't have said it."

Why it matters: The Angels, naturally, aren't too happy about this and have asked the league to investigate whether Harper is guilty of tampering.

  • Here's the thing: He is. According to league rules, players, coaches or managers "other than the club with which the player is under contract" can't discuss prospective employment.
  • But here's the other thing: Who cares? MLB would be wise to let this go, as this is precisely the kind of player-fueled drama the league often struggles to produce.

Related: "Bryce Harper should have a legacy in Washington. Why can't I find it?"

6. 🏈 March 8, 2016: Peyton hangs 'em up

Photo: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three years ago today, 40-year-old Peyton Manning — having just won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos — announced his retirement from the NFL.

By the numbers:

  • 5 MVP awards (most ever)
  • 539 career touchdown passes (most ever)
  • 5,744 passing yards in a single season (most ever)
  • 71,940 career passing yards (second behind Drew Brees)

Watch: Top 10 career highlights

7. ⚾️ MLB trivia
  • Question: Who are the only three Mets pitchers to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the Cy Young?
  • Hint: One debuted in the 1967, one debuted in the 1984 and one debuted in 2014.
8. The Ocho: Imagine playing a giant handball game with your whole town

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

"For centuries, the citizens of Ashbourne, England have annually contested the Royal Shrovetide Football match, a sprawling, chaotic wrestling match masquerading as a soccer game," writes Deadspin's Patrick Redford.


  • Two teams: Depending on which side of the nearby Henmore Brook you were born on, you're either on the "Down'ards" or the "Up'ards."
  • The objective: Get the ball into one of two goals that are positioned three miles apart at either end of Ashbourne. Play continues until someone scores.
  • The rules: 1. No driving the ball in a car. 2. No hiding the ball in a bag. 3. No murders.

Match recap: It took a full hour for the ball to get moved out of the town square on Tuesday and play was suspended at 10 pm. At 8:42pm on Wednesday night, Richard Smith of the Down'ards scored the game-winning goal.

Go deeper: Full match report

9. 📚 Good reads
  • Love football and award-winning writers? Read this, by the legendary Wright Thompson. One of the best to ever do it.
  • Wanna cry? Read this. It will give you goosebumps and, hopefully, remind you that we are all ripples in a giant pond.
  • Love/hate Duke? Read this.

P.S. While we're on the topic of spectacular writing, legendary golf writer and best-selling author Dan Jenkins passed away late last night. He was 89.

  • In 2017, the aforementioned Wright Thompson won the inaugural Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting for his masterpiece, "The Secret History of Tiger Woods."

Pro tip: Every link in this section is beyond worthy of your time. Treat yourself to at least two. It's Friday.

10. Happy International Women's Day!

Courtesy: Under Armour

Back in November, 9-year-old Riley Morrison wrote a letter to Steph Curry asking why his signature shoes were only sold in boys' sizes. Steph wrote her back and thanked her for holding Under Armour and himself accountable.

  • He also pledged to do something big on International Women's Day — a promise he kept by inviting Riley to help design a new pair of signature shoes. All proceeds will go toward a scholarship for college-bound female athletes.

P.S. Shoutout to all the women in my life. Love you, mom. Love you, Carly. Love you, Jackie. Love you, Nana. And shoutout to all the women in your lives, too.

P.P.S. Axios asked women leaders in philanthropy, entertainment and business: "What is the 1 big thing you think will matter to women in 2019?" Read their answers.

Kendall Baker


Kendall "Omaha! Omaha!" Baker

Trivia answer: Tom Seaver (who was just diagnosed with dementia), Doc Gooden and Jacob deGrom