In recent years, we’ve seen a bunch of NFL competitors pop up promising streamlined, quick-paced play and an alternative to an increasingly polarizing and political NFL.
While the leagues themselves have made big promises as being similar to minor league feeders or straight up competitors to the NFL, those are big promises to make.
The NFL is a billion dollar industry, a juggernaut in the sport only comparable to college football in scale and saturation into the American fabric.
The only way that these leagues can carve out their own niche is to stick to their promised identity, innovate and produce or secure NFL-quality players.
While the Alliance of American Football (AAF) isn’t a league in direct competition with the NFL, they do have some connective threads.
Alliance teams tout themselves as a feeder system to the NFL, a place for players trying to keep in shape, playing for a team and ready to be signed to an NFL roster in case of an injury.
Some current NFL upper-level management, like the LA Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, feel that the Alliance could be used similarly to minor league baseball teams.
“It’s a great idea,” Telesco told ESPN. “It has the potential to be a nice complement to the NFL. It’s a great spot for a developmental league for players, but even aside from that — coaches and front office, officiating, athletic trainers and video equipment people, public relations — all of that. So I think it’s a great place where people can develop in every department of football operations. Every department that touches a football team can get some real-life experience.”
As a place for young players to develop further after college in an organized, professional team setting or for players who might be between opportunities in the league.
Some former NFL players scattered across the league include Trent Richardson, Christian Hackenberg, Josh Johnson, Nick Novak, Matt Asiata and Bishop Sankey.
It’s yet to be seen if the league has the potential for expansion from where it is now, but it’s one of the more promising prospects as an NFL companion we’ve seen in years.
While the Alliance might be positioning itself as an NFL companion, the XFL is trying to dethrone it.
The second coming of the venture, WWE head man Vince McMahon has pitched the XFL as a league that embraces the violent hits that the NFL has worked to phase out of the game and takes a hard-line stance on political protests like kneeling during the anthem that polarized the league these past few seasons.
The XFL promises a league free of protests, where everyone stands for the national anthem, no one with any type of criminal record is allowed to play and players are free to hit one another with reckless abandon.
The key to the XFL’s success is going to be getting those NFL fans who are dissatisfied with the league for the lack of hard-hitting action or political differences to watch them instead of the NFL, a big ask for many.
In a country where football is a religion for many, carving out a segment of that dedicated population might be a mighty challenge.
Whether it’s the AAF or XFL, the alternatives to the NFL are growing. It’s a market yet to be tapped by other leagues.
Eventually, someone is going to do it but I have my doubts it will be either of these two leagues.
High Fighting: Jiu-Jitsu Meets Cannabis
The relationship between recreational marijuana and sports has historically been contentious, and MMA leagues in the United States are no exception. Because of how long weed lingers in the bloodstream, many fighters who follow the rule of not smoking during competitive periods nonetheless test positive. Superstar UFC athletes who have tested positive for marijuana (like Nick Diaz) have faced harsh penalties, including fines and even suspensions or bans from competition, thanks to this law.
High Rollerz co-founders Matt Staudt and Big Lonn Howard have chosen to put together a cannabis-infused jiu-jitsu tournament where some of the sport’s elite athletes get high with their opponent before competing – and where the winner’s grand prise is a pound of pot.
Peep the Vice documentary below.
Ricky Williams: His Journey from Pro Footballer to Pro Healer
Cannabis Aficionado spoke exclusively to Ricky Williams about his Real Wellness range, being a healer and his role as a cannabis advocate.
Since leaving the NFL, Ricky Williams has studied herbalism and alternative holistic therapies. Williams was suspended multiple times during his NFL career for his cannabis use but has spoken repeatedly about the benefits and effects of the plant.
Former running back Williams, who won a Heisman Trophy at Texas before spending more than a decade in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, has founded Real Wellness by Ricky Williams; a new line of cannabis-based products that also feature herbal extracts like lavender and turmeric.
We spoke to Williams about Real Wellness, his role as a cannabis advocate, and his new path as a healer.
Cannabis Aficionado: You’ve gone from being ostracized for your cannabis use, to being applauded for your advocacy. Now, you’ve redefined yourself again by helping shape the industry. How does it feel to be in the situation you are now compared to five years?
Ricky Williams: It’s definitely more stressful. I think to put your name and your passion behind something, especially something as controversial as cannabis, is risky. But it’s rewarding, you know? I feel like what I’m doing is meaningful and is changing people’s lives for the better. It’s a really good feeling. I find my purpose more in the healing work that I do.
My vision for cannabis is way beyond where I am right now. I’ve just realized that the steps I’m taking now feel like what’s required to get to where I’d like to get to in my advocacy. But it’s that tension between where we’re headed and where we are and I think that’s why we need people to advocate to help us move in that direction.
One of the most important things I’ve done in my advocacy is being honest about my experiences. As more people come out and be honest the stigma will naturally start to erode. The fact that people kept their cannabis consumption a secret, I know people that give me a hard time in the media that are consumers themselves.
I did a paper in school a couple of years ago about the effect of cannabis use on the relationship between parents and adolescents and it was mindblowing how many parents and kid relationships are torn apart because of the stigma [around cannabis].
The first time I spoke publically, I was shocked by how many people came up to me afterward and told me how touched they were not only by my words but my story, and how it gave them the courage to be honest about their journey and not be ashamed, and advocate for their rights to feel better.
It just shows you that anything is possible. If you believe in yourself and stick with it. Things are always changing.
Since leaving the NFL, you’ve become a certified holistic healer. Have you always been interested in alternative therapies?
I started by becoming a licensed massage therapist and other healing work I did while I was still playing football. I’ve just had more time and energy to devote to it now. It’s become pretty much the sole focus of what I’m doing — I’m still studying Chinese Medicine!
Playing football, being in a lot of pain and having injuries… I tried pretty much everything and certain things worked and I stuck with them, became curious and it took me down a path where I started to become a practitioner. Because I realized football is tough! So, you know for me, anything that can help me with this can have some use for a lot of other people as well.
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We found medicine in nature. You could even say that nature placed medicine right in front of us. Medicine begins as a seed, so does passion. Real Wellness was sprouted when one man made his passion for natures medicine his focal point. Passion motivates us. What motivates you? We thought that was the perfect question for today… after all, it’s #MotivationalMonday ✔️
What made you start your own line of cannabis products? Was it for healing and what you were doing with the herbs?
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I retired for the first time in 2004 and started traveling and that’s when I found Ayurveda. I went back to the states and I started studying Ayurveda in school. It was in California where medicinal marijuana was legal at a state level. And so I got my prescription recommendation and at the same time I was learning about Ayurvedic herbs and it just clicked. I started playing around in my kitchen putting together herbal formulas and combining cannabis. That was almost 15 years ago.
When I returned to play football in the NFL for another five or six years, instead of going to doctors when I got banged up I would go to my acupuncturist, I’d go to my herbal product store. You know, I’d just take care of myself. So, when I started thinking about doing something in a cannabis space, I looked around and realized people are talking about medicinal marijuana but you’d go to a dispensary and it’s just THC and CBD and there are no herbs in there. When they are combined, their synergistic effects they can be more powerful and more specific. I realized there’s a void in the market for truly medicinal herbal supplements with cannabis. So, let’s see if we can fill this void and that’s how we started.
Why do you there think there was a gap?
I think there was a big gap because of the stigma around cannabis, you know? Most people stay away from it because of the legal implications. With my background and the resources that I have access to, I was in a unique position to be able to start this conversation and start to bring products to the market that can serve as alternatives to the pharmaceuticals.
I started [playing football] early, in high school taking pain pills so I would be good to play sports. And by 18 years I had my first ulcer from taking too many pain pills. When I got into the NFL I had further difficulties taking pharmaceuticals. And so I started looking to find alternative ways to take care of myself that would serve me in the long run. And you know, in that same vein I found yoga, tai chi, and herbal medicine. I found a lot of different ways to take care of myself in ways that were kinder and gentler on my body.
You were able to turn your experience into a product that is able to help so many people.
And we’re working on it, you know. In my mind, I’ve really been benefitted by Chinese herbalism, you know? The Chinese have formulas for pretty much everything. And so in my mind, I have all these ideas of things I want to create. And on the other side of it, I’m working with my wife who handles the business side of it. That’s the other side of it and so, working together to find a way, especially with all the regulations in different states and finding other partners that match our philosophy and have the same commitment to quality and finding ways to get people interested in this.
There’s still a big stigma, you know? I mean people are more open now to CBD but my bigger mission is to point out to people that true healing doesn’t occur from taking a substance like a pharmaceutical. It comes from a changing consciousness a change in the way you see things and the way you handle your life. And one of the things about THC in altered states is that consciously, it has the ability to change our lives on a deeper level. And when you mix that with the herbs and the chemicals that work with our body, it becomes a powerful medicine that has lasting change and lasting healing.
That’s been my personal experience. The person I was before I retired from football for the first time and went on this healing journey was very different from who I am today. I look at all the change I’ve been through, the healing and growth and it’s really been quite remarkable.
I feel really good about my journey and I feel like I’m onto something and if I can find a way to share this message and get it out to the world, I can offer that same kind of healing and change and happiness for a larger group of people.
Being able to offer something that can offer relief to people that are suffering and using your power for good.
Yeah, like when I was a kid and I thought about wanting to be a football player it wasn’t so much about the fame for me it was about realizing that it would give me a platform. And as a kid, I didn’t know what I would use that platform for but I’ve always had a gentle heart. Always had a lot of compassion for people, and in my own life, I’ve suffered a lot. And learning about herbs, you know… simple things that tortured me as a kid. I realized there are simple remedies available that I just didn’t have access to. So, if I can stop people from suffering as much as… as I did. You can use that energy for more growth instead of having to recover or suffer.
If you remove the bad stuff you’re left with a focus for the good things.
Yeah, and even the good things are still challenging but at least the challenge puts your further on your path and you’re not just going back to feeling decent, you know? The first part of my life, I spent my energy just trying to feel ok. Since I’ve learned and grown, I use my energy to feel better. I feel like my cup is running over, and I feel like I have excess resources, excess time, excess energy to be able to share with other people.
I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of personal success at a young age and so I kinda checked that off my list and I truly only get happiness or benefit from sharing what I know and sharing what I’ve learned and also being touched by people who’ve been willing to share things about themselves and about their journey.
How have the Real Wellness products been received?
They’ve been received really well. We have a topical that people seem to really love. We think our most interesting product, we call it the Optimized Tonic and it’s an herbal formula I got from one of my herbalist teachers. My herbalist has a story with it and says the monks who practice martial arts, the Daoist monks, they studied herbs and acupuncture and so they started creating formulas for their training processes. So, Optimized Tonic is an herbal formula that is used to increase flexibility.
What I love about it is the Daoist and the Chinese didn’t separate the body from the mind. They realized herbs that improved flexibility in the body also improved the flexibility of the mind. So this formula is really great for anyone who feels stuck, whether it’s physically stuck like arthritis or stiff joints or whether they feel emotionally stuck, you know it’s the herbs really get the energy moving and the CBD helps the body hold on to and return to homeostasis. Its really powerful medicine and people are having really positive effects.
I think what’s been the most pleasantly surprising experience is what I see reflected in other people. The first time I took an herb to help myself, I’d broke my arm while playing football. they gave me morphine after surgery to repair my arm and it made me kind of sick. My neighbor told me about arnica. I took a little bit, not that much, and I literally was pain-free a few days after surgery. It dawned on me how powerful herbs can be. As CBD becomes more popular and people who have experiences with herbs are having the same realization, and people who have used our products are surprised how effective herbs can be in making them feel better.
Any plans to extend the product line?
It’s something we talk about on a daily basis. In the US right now, we have a big opioid epidemic so first on our priority list is creating pain capsules that will give people an alternative to opioids. Also, I was at an event in Toronto a couple of years ago and I met these women, sisters who were suffering from eczema. They had tried everything and I made a promise to them that we would come up with a topical that would help [with their eczema], so that’s something else on my list. another thing people are really struggling with is sleep, and the Chinese have some amazing formulas that will calm their mushin and calm their mind and help them get to sleep.
We’re also currently in talks with different manufacturing partners in different states to have our THC products available in other states.
You’ve probably sampled everything that cannabis has to offer. What’s your preferred method of consumption?
I’m old fashioned, I still like to inhale, I like to smoke. There’s something about the raw herb that feels very natural and deep.
When it comes to the NFL’s current stance on cannabis, do you see it changing anytime soon?
The NFL gets a hard time but they test players once a year in the offseason and players are free to do what they want as long as they pass that test, they’re pretty lax.
It would be nice if they were more advocating for player wellness but at least they don’t give players too hard of a time.
Have any current or past NFL players reached out to you for advice on cannabis or using your products?
I’ve had a player reach out and ask about his mother who was looking for an alternative to alcohol for relaxing and her anxiety, so we sent her a care package and she says it’s going well.
To access THC, although there are delivery services, most people have to visit a dispensary, which people can be uncomfortable with. So we’re trying to find creative ways to make the whole experience less intimidating.
As a health advocate, how would you convince the average person to accept and try your products and cannabis-based medicine?
I think about this a lot. I go straight for the mind-altering effects and I say we have a vape cartridge called Serenity. it’s 3:1 CBD/THD and infused with six other herbs that are known for working in partnership with the nervous system. I would say think about an issue in your life that’s been causing you issues. Take a puff of Serenity and sit there and allow yourself to start brainstorming about possible solutions. It’s cliche but its true; when you can relax and let go of preconceived issues you can find creative ways to look at things and deal with them.
So you want your products to give people hope?
Yeah, hope is extremely important and sometimes just a ray of hope is enough, it supports our perseverance.
Real Wellness from Ricky Williams is available in dispensaries across California. The CBD only products are available online.
Skateboarder JS Lapierre Rides to the Top with CBD
JS Lapierre talks to Cannabis Aficionado about his skateboarding history, his future and the role CBD plays in his health and fitness regimen.
To the masses, the concept of skateboarding invokes images of urban streets, concrete, metal fixtures and graffiti art. In stark contrast, skateboarder JS Lapierre began his venture in the simplistic farmland setting of a small Canadian village. No handrails and no jumps, just hard work, passion, and creativity.
JS Lapierre has made a commitment to focusing on mental and physical health as he continues to pursue his journey in skateboarding. He makes conscious decisions every day to better himself, which is something that can arguably be seen as counterintuitive to the traditional skateboarding lifestyle. Now, as a skateboarder riding for Zero Skateboards, he continues to add knowledge and skills to his repertoire, a lot of which is motivated by his new passion for CBD.
We spoke exclusively to JS Lapierre about his skateboarding history, future and the role CBD plays in his health and fitness regimen.
Cannabis Aficionado: What was your first memory of skateboarding?
JS Lapierre: The first time that skateboarding was introduced to me was when one of my friends got a mini ramp in his backyard. I think I used his older brother’s skateboard and I was instantly obsessed. That friend and I keep in touch. I don’t know if his older brother ever found out I was using his board, but I know his parents were proud when they found out I was doing so well skateboarding.
What is it about skateboarding that is so appealing to you?
When I was a kid I did it because I loved it so much. There was no reason, I just thought it was really fun. Now, as I grow older and learn more about spirituality I realize that extreme sports give a moment of clarity. Nothing else is going on. There is no voice in my head, no ego. It is a pure form of meditation for me. Everything it has given me has been amazing. I’ve been crazy places and met all kinds of people. I’m very grateful.
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When did you make the decision to pursue skateboarding as a career?
I think deep down in my heart I knew that I wanted to pursue skateboarding as a goal. I believe there was a decisive moment when I finished high school. My parents wanted me to keep going to school, so I applied to go to college.
I was supposed to start the next month, but there was a big contest in Montreal. I decided to go out there and try. I got first place and won like eight thousand dollars. That was the perfect opportunity to set aside regular life and pursue skateboarding. My mom was super supportive and I had a little money to live on, which I think made her more ok with it. It has been such a blessing.
You grew up in a small town on a farm. Skateboarding is often associated with urban lifestyle. How do you combine those two worlds?
I’ve been really lucky. When I was young my parents were really supportive. We lived in a small village that only had about 400 people. I loved it so much that I wanted to skate every day. I would skate in front of my house, practicing ground tricks. They would bring me out to the nearest skatepark whenever they could, which was 15 minutes away. In the winter there was an indoor skate park 45 minutes away by Montreal. I was really lucky they did that for me.
How much time do you spend skating a week?
I think I skate probably once every two days, depending on a lot of things. You can’t really film at skate parks. You have to find handrails and sets of stairs. It takes some time to drive around trying to find skate spots and then try not to get kicked out. Most of the time I skate 5-10 hours during the week. That’s one of the reasons it’s good to have other things around that you like to do. I read, stretch a lot and do yoga.
Finding a great place to skate and film can be difficult. Skateboarders are often stereotyped as youngsters with no regard for others’ space or property. In reality, most have no intention of disturbing the peace.
I’ve been really lucky. Some people go to jail for trespassing or ridiculous fines. When I was young, I got a $600 fine for skating. I believe I was under 18 so the fine was significantly reduced. We are just trying to have fun and skate. Some people don’t see it that way.
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How do you know when it is time to stop skating for the day?
That is what’s cool; you are never going to know everything in skateboarding. There are so many tricks that you are never going to master more than yourself. I skate as much as I can without being too sore the next day. I listen to my body.
Some skateboarders prefer to skate alone, while others like to travel in groups. I like to have friends around, but if we are in a city it can be kind of annoying to have a big group. But I like a good communal session. Talk some shit and do some skating.
If you could ride with anyone, who would it be?
Laird Hamilton. He’s actually a surfer, not a skateboarder but the reasons for that is that he’s got so many insights about how to maintain a healthy body through cold exposure and breathing exercises. He’s got these underwater exercises that a bunch of people come to his house to try out and it looks so epic.
How has your decision to adopt a meat-free lifestyle affected your body?
It started off as an ethical decision. I saw videos of what goes on in slaughterhouses and I wanted to do something about that. If I’m consuming those products I’m supporting the industry. So, I started as a vegetarian. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was really a healthy option. There is a lot of misinformation about how you lose important nutrients and protein. As I got older, I began to read about the nutrition side of things. I also watched a lot of documentaries, which prompted me to become a vegan.
I try to be as healthy as possible. Since skateboarding is my career, I have some extra time on my hands to learn and use my knowledge efficiently. I want to be able to skate as long as possible. I want to be able to use all the tools I can outside of skateboarding to do what I love the most.
A vegan lifestyle takes a lot of dedication. How do you make it work?
Honestly, I used to eat for taste. I love eating food still, but I try to center my diet on the healthiest things. I cook a lot. I don’t eat out much. I make a lot of smoothies with superfoods so I am full of energy throughout the day. I love Indian food. That’s probably my favorite.
My parents are starting to realize more about healthy eating. Whenever I go home I try and tell them what I know without being too annoying. I can see an improvement and I want to see my parents stay healthy and energetic.
What do you do to stay mentally focused?
I do yoga and try to meditate daily, which is a difficult thing to do. I also do Wim Hoff breathing exercises and cold showers, which help to restore balance and maintain energy. It’s amazing.
I’ve been super into health and self-improvement for a few years now and I was always jealous of my friends who would be able to benefit from the cannabis plant. I wished I would be able to smoke a joint after a long day of skating so I could recuperate faster and just relax. I personally always had a hard time getting high though, I would be super paranoid and it ended up just being a turn off so I haven’t smoked weed in years now.
What made you decide to start incorporating CBD oil into your healthy routine?
I think it was from seeing other friends posting about it and I kept seeing CBD oil in some of the health stores and hearing about it. I knew cannabis had a lot of benefits, but I don’t smoke. I get too much in my head. I knew there were good things in cannabis but I didn’t want to smoke. Then I looked up the benefits of CBD. I think it is the perfect tool to skate and recuperate. And mentally it makes me feel really calm.
I take Receptra CBD oil every day, in the morning and at night. In the long run, the tincture makes a difference in overall health. The topical is good for short-term pain.
For me, being sore is the issue rather than bruising. You jump the same set 40-50 times and you are going to be sore. Receptra helps with that. It is super effective and really easy just to use the liquid every day as part of my routine.