Former NFL tight end Eddie Lee "Boo" Williams tried to kill himself in 2007.
Retired UFC fighter Kyle Kingsbury grew tired of getting punched in the face.
And Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Pro Bowler Ricky Williams really just liked getting baked.
What do these guys all have in common? They’ve all benefited from consuming cannabis in quantity and they’re the new frontmen for a new brand of socially acceptable canna-culture: pothead jocks. Thanks to winter-sports entrepreneur Jim McAlpine, weed jocks now have their own national series of events, the 420 Games, which in its first L.A. incarnation this weekend was just a quick jaunt up the Strand from the Santa Monica Pier to Venice and back.
Do we have to tell you the distance they ran, biked, walked and skated? No. We don’t. Do we have to tell you the number they all wore as race bibs? Again, no. We don’t.
Starting well before the scheduled 9:30 a.m. start time on Saturday, a massive line of registrants stretched through the pier’s parking lot, waiting to get into the games’ 420 Village. Among them were weed-leaf-bucket-hatted goofballs, T-shirts-tucked-into-jeans normcore dads and, unlike at most other weed events, people in fancy athletic gear psyching themselves up with light stretching.
At the “family-friendly” event, there were no heady clouds of smoke floating around when a yoga session kicked off the morning’s activities and folks with strollers ushered their kids around the Village. Sure, there was a whiff of nug in the air as the athletically built McAlpine announced the order of events. But that close to the Santa Monica Pier, really, the dank stank could've been coming from anyone. And, besides, in this current greenwave of socially acceptable marijuana consumption, there are so many edibles, oils, dabs and concoctions, that fog bank of pot has almost become a thing of the past.
Departing in three waves, starting with the serious runners, all of those racers huffed off down the Strand about an hour late. Trailing at the back were walkers and well wishers, while somewhere in the middle were the cliques that you come to expect at these kinds of events: chopper bicycle dudes, mildly costumed representatives of various pot startups and various old-school hippie types.
Winning that first wave of serious runners was Chris Barnicle, who took home a $500 prize from Eaze, one of the event’s sponsors.
How baked was Barnicle? Real baked.
“I am pretty high,” he told us. “I took these 5-milligram Kiva espresso bites ... I took nine of them, so that’s, what, about 45 milligrams? ” For those of you unfamiliar with dosage, that’s enough weed to fully dose a garden-variety funk collective through sound check.
The women who won their respective heats declined interviews and actually took off without their prizes. Maybe they had other races to run?
So really, what’s all the hubbub? It wasn’t actually a series of games and the run wasn’t much longer than a 5K. If the event’s T-shirts hadn’t said it all with their “I’m not a stoner. I’m an athlete” slogans emblazoned on the backs, the event’s frontmen filled in that gap for us. This was, after all, a showcase. “I really liked his [McAlpine’s] mission of destigmatizing cannabis use and cannabis users,” Ricky Williams said of his involvement. “Using cannabis opened my mind and different perspectives, and it really contributed to the quality of my life.”
His former New Orleans Saints teammate, Boo Williams (no relation), went through a rough patch after his career ended. Boo Williams co-founded the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to help athletes like himself recover from not only the pain of destroying their bodies but the everyday struggle of feeling as if they've been forgotten by fans after they leave the league. “It’s a medicine that helps us athletes slow the process down so we can understand some of the things that we’re going through,” he said, “and just having it there as a protectant rather than some of the other painkillers they’re shoving us, it’s a big help.”
“They’re so tight on THC in sports now,” fighter Kyle Kingsbury explained as he described how one athlete can be suspended for a few games for steroid usage, but another can have his entire career ruined by a bad drug test. “It’s a shit deal, but the more people who come out and speak about this now they’re retired, the better. We all smoked, we all vaped. And now it’s been an easy transition because all the bad stuff about prescription medication is coming out more and all of the great stuff about cannabis is coming out at the same time.”
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Truth be told, weed culture has already become pretty boring and predictable. There are “serious” too-cool-for-school cannabis journalists now (yawn) and a whole mess of quasi-promotional mouthpieces for the industry. And if you can get through the euphemism maze that all of these soapboxing weed advocates have to run, there’s usually an even sillier series of conversations about all of the pun-heavy products and services. But despite that environment, the 420 Games mixed things up quite a bit and offered the kind of perspective your average go-getter can appreciate. Even if there were no actual "games" per se.
One day soon, this should all look as silly and as boring as a bunch of Clydesdales dragging a beer wagon in front of mountains, or as boring as a bunch of football players slugging post-game pitchers while a Bob Seger Drunk Uncle Anthem plays. Until cannabis becomes as commonplace as “This Duff’s for You” or “Take Two of These and Call Me in the Morning," McAlpine and his team are doing a decent job keeping things above board and interesting.