"I Did Not Sign Up for a Traumatic Brain Injury" - The Leonard Marshall Interview
Bucket List item: Meet an NFL Legend (check).
Any sports nut knows how rare it is to spend meaningful time with an NFL legend like Leonard Marshall. I’d been bugging Tara Coomans to meet him for the better part of a year, and finally agreed to fly to the Cannabis World Congress Business Expo (CWCBE) in New York City so she couldn’t say no. By then I’d read a bushel of interviews with the former New York Giant defensive end, one of the few who have played in the Pro Bowl and won the Super Bowl two times apiece.
When she introduced him, I got a deeper take on the work ‘rare’ - Leonard Marshall is the biggest human being I’ve ever seen. He’s fully twice my size and so strong that his handshake filled me with existential dread.
But after a thirty minutes with the man I can report: in spite of a career built on running over massive men and changing the course of entire football seasons, Leonard Marshall is a thoughtful and big-hearted person of profound humanity.
Leonard was at the CWCBE sharing his story about why he’s become a true believer and evangelist about cannabidiol. Using CBD is one thing, and helping others understand his challenges and his journey is where Leonard’s generosity of spirit shows.
It started in 2013 with his diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been a death sentence to many friends and peers from the NFL, but Leonard has taken the controversial route of caring for himself with CBD twice a day. To hear him tell it, “CBD has brought me back, allowed me to feel like myself again, to return to my youthful days.”His takes Elixinol CBD drops, derived from hemp (unlike cannabis, hemp has <1% THC), which allowshim to focus on his family, youth football, and helping others.
I played 10 years in the NFL but there was a moment when I changed from the fat kid from Louisiana to a playmaker
Anyone can pull Leonard’s bio on Wikipedia, but I was curious what he would like to be remembered for. “I played 10 years in the NFL but there was a moment when I changed from the fat kid from Louisiana to a playmaker. In the ’84 Wild Card game against the LA Rams, I tackled Dwayne Crutchfield behind the line on 4thand goal, and we got into the playoffs. In 1985 I was Defensive Lineman of the Year with 15 ½ sacks in a 3-4 Defense, which has never happened before or since. In ‘86: D-Lineman of the year, Giants MVP over [8x All-Pro] Lawrence Taylor - and you know LT was a phenomenal athlete. That year I knocked Joe Montana out of the championship game and had 3 sacks in the Super Bowl. Some say I could have been MVP but Phil Simms had a perfect game. I’ve always been happy for him - I love me some Phil Simms! At almost 30 years old, we won a 2ndSuper Bowl; I had the only sack in the game and ended my career as the Giants’ 3rdall-time with 79 ½ sacks. Those are the things I’m most proud of.”
I decided to dig a bit deeper, and since we’re both fathers I asked whether he’d let his kids play football. “Football shaped my life. I wouldn’t be talking to you except for football. But between us fathers, I have a stepson and if I had raised him from birth I would let it be his decision. He did play, and football gave him the competitive edge to become an amazing lawyer. But I advise all kids to play flag football until they’re 14. Have fun, learn the fundamentals: throwing, catching, tucking the ball, getting your footwork right… flag football teaches you all that and it’s safe for the heads of young players.”
I always knew I would come away from the game of football with damage... What I did not sign up for is a traumatic brain injury.
I was nervous, but felt compelled to ask about the moment of his diagnosis of CTE. He’s lost friends and competitors from football days who didn’t make it… How did it feel when that doctor said ‘Leonard, I’ve got really bad news…’?
“Even before I was told in 2013, I had known I had something wrong for several years. I didn't feel right, my memory was off, my moods were all over the place, my body was off. I always knew I would come away from the game of football with damage. I have degenerative hip failure. I have 4 ruptured disks in my neck, alright? What I did not sign up for is a traumatic brain injury. My teammate and friend Dave Duerson put a .44 magnum to his chest, killed himself. My friend Junior Seau, a great player and a great man, also took his own life, and many others.”
So how is Marshal still going and doing all that he does? What drives him? “My instinct is to survive. When I found out I have CTE I said to myself, I don’t want to be that guy. And I also have an instinct to help other guys. Anyone I can talk to that are contemplating whether to fight or give up, I always counsel them to fight. There isa reason to live. You canprovide for your family. You cansurvive and have a good life. And I will talk to any football player, any athlete, at any time - day or night - to help them through.”
I asked how he found our about CBD – “Actually, it was Ryan Kingsbury [of Athletes for Care] and Heather Jackson [CEO of Realm of Caring] that introduced me to CBD. I do a lot of work with Athletes For Care, and I’m a proud spokesperson for Elixinol, the company that makes the best CBD products I take every day.”
Over the PA, an announcer said “… and Leonard Marshall will be answering your questions and signing autographs…” and as he stood up (and up and up) I quickly said, “Is there anything you wish I had asked?”
Leonard Marshall wrapped his enormous hand around mine and said “Next time I see you, I want to tell you about my biological child, my daughter – and how important it is that I continue being a parent, and the best father I can be for her. I tell my daughter to Live life to fullest, Be a good person, Work hard, Don’t take criticism personally, and Play to your own beat.
"I do everything in my power to live that way, to help set an example for her.”
Leonard Marshall is a former NFL player, and since his diagnosis with CTE, a cannabis advocate. He lives in New Jersey and contributes his time to various sports related nonprofits, mentors young players, and serves as spokesperson for Athletes for Care and for Elixinol. Elixinol is based in Boulder, CO and provides hemp-derived CBD products to over 40 countries. Elixinol’s parent company, Elixinol Global is publicly traded on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:EXL).