Franco Harris was drafted 13th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft. Franco became only the fourth rookie to rush for 1,000 yards. Franco Harris also was on the receiving end of the famous “Immaculate Reception” pass from Terry Bradshaw.

Harris would go on to play for the Steelers for 12 seasons, with his 13th and final season being with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. In total Franco Harris rushed 2,949 times for 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns. Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

He rushed for 1,000 yards or more eight seasons and for more than 100 yards in 47 games. He also caught 307 passes for 2,287 yards and nine touchdowns. His career rushing total and his combined net yardage figure of 14,622 both ranked as the third highest marks in pro football history at the time of his retirement.

Harris, who was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, was an All-AFC choice in 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1977 and first- or second-team All-Pro six times. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls. Franco played in five AFC championships – missing a sixth because of injury – and four Super Bowls.

In Super Bowl IX, when the Steelers won their first-ever league title with a 16-6 victory over Minnesota, Harris rushed for 158 yards, compared to just 17 yards rushing for the entire Viking team. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Harris held numerous Super Bowl and postseason game records by the end of his career. The most notable included 24 points and 354 yards rushing in four Super Bowls and 17 touchdowns and 1,556 yards rushing in 19 postseason playoff games.

Franco Harris is not only a retired legendary football player, he is also an entrepreneur, a former Democratic presidential elector, and has been a pillar of the Pennsylvania community since his retirement. In every measurable way Mr. Franco is a successful, respected member of society. So it was very significant when he recently expressed support for the NFL allowing players to use medical cannabis for pain management.

“I will tell you this, if it ever comes to a point where I do need pain management, I’d feel very lucky and happy now that we have medicinal marijuana in Pennsylvania.” Franco said recently according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The NFL is reviewing its position on medical marijuana,” Harris said evenly. “They’re really reviewing their whole pain management regimen and how those things are handled, but if you don’t mind me giving you my personal feeling (why the hell would I mind?), I feel in any state that has approved medical marijuana (as 28 states hosting 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams have), the league should remove medical marijuana from being a banned substance. I feel that recreational marijuana should be a banned substance in the NFL, but medical marijuana has a different composition.” Franco said according to the article.

Franco Harris’ support for medical cannabis is very helpful for medical use among players, but it would have been nice to see him extend that to adult use as well. Hopefully that’s just a matter of further education on the topic of cannabis prohibition, which is a tremendously harmful, racist policy. As we have pointed out there before on the Uncle Cliffy blog, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that African Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, even though consumption rates are roughly the same for both races.

In St. Louis specifically, one study found that African Americans were arrested 18 times more often than white people for cannabis. This is tremendously important because many sports leagues treat a legal cannabis issue such as an arrest as grounds for league sanctions. By enforcing cannabis prohibition in that manner, professional sports leagues are perpetuating the systematic racism that is so ingrained in America’s criminal justice system. If cannabis is only allowed for medical purposes in the NFL and other sports leagues, it doesn’t address this very important issue.

Hopefully Franco Harris, and other athletes that are hesitant to end cannabis prohibition in sports altogether, learn more about prohibition as a whole, and how harmful it is. The Uncle Cliffy team understands that cannabis reform in athletics is a fairly new conversation that is occurring, and that support for full reform is going to be an evolving process. We encourage professional athletes, both current and retired, to reach out to us to share information about cannabis reform and to collaborate on efforts. If players, fans, and cannabis advocates everywhere unite behind one message we will free the plant. A huge tip of the hat to Franco Harris, and to all athletes speaking out in support of reform!

image via Penn Live