Jim McMahon isn’t the type of former athlete who sits around and reminisces about the good old days in the National Football League or the Super Bowl glory that brought him and many teammates lasting fame.
Inevitably, as February rolls around every year, he’s asked about his memories of the Chicago Bears’ 46-10 victory in Super Bowl XX, a record-setting win that capped off the Bears’ historic 1985 season, often cited as one of the greatest in NFL history. In that game, McMahon became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to rush for two touchdowns, but it’s hardly worth a passing thought to him today.
“It was 37 years ago,” he says. “I don’t really remember much of the game. I just wanted to get out of town. It wasn’t a good experience for me, because I was getting death threats.”
McMahon’s post-playing career bears some similarities to the 15 years he spent in the NFL: He’s known just as well for his personality off the field as his feats on the gridiron, and he remains a passionate, outspoken advocate for the causes he believes in.
Fifteen years in the NFL wreaked absolute havoc on McMahon’s body. He took opioids for years to balance the lingering pain from shoulder and knee injuries, concussions and arthritis, but they left him in a daze and exacerbated the memory problems he was having, likely as a combination of the painkillers and the long-term effects of head injuries.
Discovering the medicinal effects of cannabis was life-changing for the former quarterback, helping him get off opioids and drastically improving his memory. Not only has cannabis improved his quality of life, but he believes it might be responsible for saving his life.
“When you’re on those opioids, you’re in a fog,” he says, “and they don’t do anything for you. Medically, all they do is mask pain. They don’t they don’t treat any illness, whereas the marijuana plant actually helps so many different afflictions.”
Like so many people, McMahon realized the fun side of cannabis long before he realized its medicinal properties.
“I remember my first experience,” he says. “I was 14 years old, I think, in San Jose, California. I went, ‘This stuff’s for me.’ It made me feel great.”
As more states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, McMahon has not only become a staunch advocate for cannabis, but he’s also active in the business, having helped launch the Revenant cannabis brand along with fellow former NFL players Kyle Turley and Eben Britton.
“I’m just glad Kyle contacted me to get into the business,” he says. “He approached me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to join me in this company?’ and laid out his mission. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m all about that.’ I believe in the plant myself, and it got us both off the opioids.”
With his platform and connections to professional football, McMahon is able to speak up on cannabis and be respected by players of generations past, as well as the modern athlete.
He knows first-hand the detriments of opioid use and the toll sports take on the body.
“For years after I retired, I had to take two pills every morning before I even got out of bed,” he says. “Just to be able to function. And then all of a sudden, the day’s gone, and you don’t realize what’s going on. And you look at all the people that have died from opioids. They’re actually addictive and kill people, whereas marijuana has not killed anybody.”
During the week of the Super Bowl, McMahon and his Revenant co-founders brought together some of the biggest names in sports for a charity golf tournament in Anthem, Arizona, about a half-hour drive from the site of Super Bowl LVII.
On February 10, the Anthem Golf and Country Club hosted the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, featuring former sports stars like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Jeremy Roenick and more.
The event not only benefited the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, a national nonprofit set up to help former NFL players in dire financial situations, but it helped “send a strong message to the NFL, and other sports organizations that fail to recognize cannabis for medicinal purposes,” McMahon says.
Former NFL coach Mike Ditka founded the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund for retired NFL players who did not qualify for the health care benefits and pensions provided to players in the modern league. Unlike the players of today, who are supported with pensions, top-of-the-line health care and seven- or eight-figure salaries, the players of past generations have largely been forgotten by the multibillion-dollar enterprise that is the modern NFL.
“I always had a lot of respect for Coach Ditka, and I think he’s doing a hell of a job with that foundation,” McMahon says. “He’s helping the older guys, even before me, that are just struggling, Hall of Fame names that are living in trailers or on the street.”
As a player, McMahon starred at Brigham Young University, eventually being enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was selected fifth overall by the Chicago Bears in the 1982 NFL draft and had his best season in 1985, leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns. For many fans, it was McMahon’s personality off the field that captured their attention. He and his fellow Bears became instant legends for the Super Bowl Shuffle, and McMahon’s feud with then-commissioner Pete Rozelle over logos on headbands became a platform for advocacy causes like juvenile diabetes.
He employs a similar flair today in advocating for medical cannabis, particularly when taking the fight to the NFL brass.
“Kyle and I both just want the NFL and pretty much everybody else in the country to stand up and look at the facts,” he says. “This plant does so much for these guys, and why can’t they use it? But you can take all the pills that you want. We’ve been lied to for over 100 years by our government. They’ve had a patent on it as a neuro-protectant for years. It’s not a drug. It’s a medicinal herb.”
Photos by Carl Schutlz | Schultz Digital