NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will be open-minded on medical marijuana if it helps players, but that's little solace to the Seahawks' Brandon Browner
JERSEY CITY — While the Seattle Seahawks are relishing their time in the Super Bowl spotlight, Brandon Browner is on the opposite side of the country, paying for mistakes he didn't even know he'd made.
He hears NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell go all warm and fuzzy, talking about how the league is open to the use of medical marijuana if it would help players. Browner wonders where the compassion is for him.
"It totally sucks," Browner told USA Today Sports. "If (you thought) I had a problem, you should be helping me."
The Seahawks cornerback was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December after testing positive for marijuana. That would earn most players a four-game ban, the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. But Browner is looking at a lifetime ban because he's considered a repeat offender.
Which is where things get hazy.
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Browner tested positive for marijuana as a rookie in 2005. He never played that year, spending the season on injured reserve after breaking his forearm during the preseason. He was cut by the Denver Broncos before the 2006 season began, and no team picked him up.
That last bit is key.
When he was cut by the Broncos, Browner effectively became a former NFL player. The league didn't owe him anything, and he didn't think he owed the league anything.
Turns out, he was wrong.
When Browner returned to the league and tested positive again, the NFL said it was actually his third offense. His second offense was in the form of missed drug tests when he was playing in Canada from 2007-10. Yes, Canada, a country that doesn't have an NFL team.
(Sorry, borrowing one from Buffalo on occasion doesn't count.)
"He was out of the league in 2006 and 2007. That opens up a whole new can of worms," said Peter Schaffer, Browner's agent. "They're trying to put punishment on Brandon for not going to drug tests when he wasn't in the league, tests he wasn't even informed he was supposed to take."
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That's like you being fired from your job, only to be punished months later because you weren't still adhering to the rules of the company that fired you.
Sound fair? Not in this country.
One can argue that marijuana is illegal, and Browner shouldn't have been using it in the first place. Except that's not so cut and dried, either.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado and Washington, where Browner played, and similar measures could be seen soon in other states. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 55 percent of Americans support legislative efforts to legalize pot.
And last week, Goodell told USA TODAY Sports that the league would consider allowing players to use marijuana if it's proven to relieve the symptoms of concussions and other head injuries. But Goodell was quick to add that, "Our medical experts are not saying that right now."
"I would say so," Browner said when asked if he considers the possible softening of the league's stance hypocritical.
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Browner is the first to admit he made a mistake – twice, in fact. And he and Schaffer would feel a lot differently if the tests were part of a program meant to help Browner stay drug-free.
Except they weren't. Not once was he offered help, Browner says, or even contacted to see if there was anything the league could do for him.
"If they said, `Look, we think you have a serious problem and are so worried about you, we're going to send you to counseling sessions or Betty Ford or whatever.' Then you say `OK, you can test me. You're trying to help me,'" Schaffer said.
Instead, it looks more like a trap.
"There's no guarantee I'll be getting help even if I do fail," Browner said. "I'm subject to getting banned from the league."
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Browner has appealed his suspension and is awaiting a decision from Goodell. If it fails, the earliest he could apply for reinstatement is Dec. 18.
Putting his career on hold has already cost Browner too much, and Schaffer says he will seek relief in federal court if the appeal fails.
Even if he's ultimately reinstated, however, there's no guarantee Browner, who was to be a free agent after the season, gets another job in the NFL.
If he does, there's certainly no guarantee he'll get another shot at the Super Bowl, like he would have with the Seahawks.
"Oh, it's awesome," said Browner, who plans to watch the game in California with his family. "The only thing missing is actually being there."
Browner still talks frequently with his old teammates, who are quick to tell not only him, but anyone who brings up his name, that Browner had as much to do with getting the Seahawks to the Super Bowl as anyone.
He had 19 tackles and one interception in eight games this season. He missed four others before the suspension with a groin injury.
"The idea of missing a Super Bowl is what's kept me up at night," Schaffer said. "Brandon won't say it because he's way too humble and much too much of team player. But that's the thing that bothers me most. They're taking away something you can't buy."
Tickets, it seems, aren't the only things the NFL overcharges for.