Favre, a Hall-of-Fame NFL quarterback, knows all about managing pain after making 297 consecutive starts over 19 seasons in the league. CBS Sports sat down with Brett Favre for a deep dive into his playing career as well as the current NFL
Why NFL Ironman Brett Favre Has Turned to CBD to Ease His Pain
The Hall-of-Fame quarterback is the latest proponent of the world’s buzziest alternative pain treatment
This is Life After Football, an ongoing series that examines how current and former NFL players, coaches and executives are building a legacy beyond the gridiron.
After making an NFL-record 297 consecutive starts over 19 seasons while playing for the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, Brett Favre certainly knows the toll that playing professional football can take on the human body. A three-time MVP who went to 11 Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl in 2006 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Favre is also well aware of the havoc that treating that pain can wreak.
Two years ago, the 50-year-old told Sports Illustrated he took as many as 14 Vicodin at once during the 1995 season, when he won the first of his three MVP awards, and that he had to make three separate trips to rehabilitation centers during his career to fight off his dependence on painkillers and alcohol. Given his struggles with addiction, the retired quarterback no longer turns to painkillers to deal with the routine aches and pains he still experiences from a life in football.
That’s what compelled Favre decided to start using CBD, the currently booming alternative medicine that’s derived from cannabis but contains no THC and — vitally for Favre — isn’t habit-forming.
“I had a bad experience with pain meds and was addicted like no one else. I mean, I was about as hooked as you could get,” Favre tells InsideHook. “I don’t want to take anything I can get addicted to and I don’t. When the product was presented to me, my first thought was, ‘Well, I don’t want to be involved in this.’ So I tried the product. It works and it’s non-THC, which is important. Some people probably could care less, but most probably are like me.”
Favre, who was impressed enough with the product to partner with nascent brand Green Eagle as a spokesman, now uses CBD on a semi-regular basis, and says he “absolutely” would have used CBD during his playing days if it was available and allowed by the NFL.
“I wish it would have been around way back when,” he says. “There was a time when there was a product called DMSO. It’s banned now, but my first five to eight years, that product was available. It looked like olive oil and you would rub it on. I had numerous sprained ankles in my career, bad sprains, and when you’d rub this oil or cream on, there was no doubt it worked. You could feel it. It had a sensation and it reeked. It came out of your pores and breath and just reeked of rotten oysters or something. But I’d rub it on, and within 20 or 30 minutes, I was practicing like there was nothing bothering me. I came to find out it was used in horse racing. If a horse was sore, they would rub it on them prior to a race. There’s no doubt there was stuff in it a doctor today would cringe at, thinking a person used that. I wonder what long-term effect that’s going to have on me, because something that strong that worked that well can’t be good for you. Fast forward to CBD. I hope it gets in the mainstream American lifestyle soon. Not to help me, because my days of playing are over, but for present players. I absolutely would recommend it for general aches and pains.”
For Favre, who had been approached about endorsing CBD products in the past, it is important to let people know there are alternatives to dealing with pain in the way that he did.
“I’m not qualified in a lot of things, but I think this is one where I certainly qualify, as far as giving a testimonial. There’s no doubt,” he says. “I have no problems talking about my past, because I know I’ve helped so many people by raising awareness. It can happen to anyone, and it’s better to not take something or drink something. Find an alternative. There probably were alternatives in 1992 when I started taking pain pills, but there are certainly way more safe alternatives today. The least likely of people to be addicted to something have become addicted to painkillers, because it’s just that dangerous and strong.”
Favre is optimistic the NFL, which has dragged its feet about making non-traditional painkillers legal within the league but did make some concessions within the latest CBA agreement, will be forced to prioritize player health as the league attempts to play its season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More so than any other time in NFL history will the health of the player is being scrutinized,” he says. “The NFL is very, very reluctant to venture out of their realm of how they think things should be done. I know that firsthand because of the concussions. They do not want to acknowledge that concussions are a problem. You and I both know, like everyone else, concussions are a major problem. But they don’t really want to hear anything about treatments or anything like that, which is crazy. Who knows what they’ll do with this product, but I’m hoping they’ll give it a try.”
That said, Favre cautions not to expect miracles from Green Eagle or any other CBD product.
“There are some days I feel great. Other days, a shoulder may bother me or a calf, just general stuff. It sucks getting old, by the way,” he says. “That’s when I use it. It’s not an everyday thing because I don’t need it every day. If you’ve got a fractured vertebra, this roll-on pain cream is not going to work. But if you have tendonitis in your elbow that flares up from time to time, I absolutely would tell you to use it, and think without a shadow of a doubt it would work on it.”
Brett Favre talks pain-killer addiction and CBD endorsement, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and more
CBS Sports sat down with Brett Favre for a deep dive into his playing career as well as the current NFL
A decade after he walked away from the game he loved, Brett Favre is still one of the most recognizable faces from the NFL. Favre, who turned 50 last October, is enjoying the retired life on his 465-acre ranch in Sumrall, Mississippi — he stays busy taking care of the ranch, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback still has time for golf once a week.
NFL fans have certainly seen Favre on television since his playing days, usually in the Wrangler jeans commercials or throwing passes to Jerry Rice in Copper Fit ads. Favre has entered a new business venture as an ambassador for Green Eagle, which offers a CBD product line for pain relief. CBD is a naturally occurring substance that’s used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm.
Favre, who once was addicted to pain relief medications during the prime of his career in the mid-1990s, shared his story in an exclusive interview with CBSSports.com. He also discussed his playing career, his life at 50, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Andy Reid.
First off Brett, thanks for taking the time. Could you explain your involvement with Green Eagle?
Favre: “So about six to eight months ago, Joesph (Smadja, the CEO of Green Eagle) reached out to a friend to get to me about his product. Like most people, I hear CBD — it’s like THC, it’s a drug. I listened to what Joseph had to say and they (Green Eagle) were very successful in France and he stated very clearly France is ahead of the United States in the CBD market.
“With that being said, you can’t go anywhere (here) without seeing a CBD store or some product that’s not CBD related — it has taken off. Now, he just wanted me to be a spokesman and endorse a product. I needed to use it first and I was pleasantly surprised. Keep in mind, this is the same as Copper Fit (laughing). People ask me, does that really work? Everything has its limitations and the Green Eagle pain relieving gel — if you got chronic tendonitis in your right elbow that flares up from time to time — it works perfect on that. Charley horse or spasms, it works fine. So I was pleasantly surprised.”
We’ve seen the risk of THC and its effects on the body with pain relievers. You can get mentally unstable with some of this stuff. I guess what you’re taking is the opposite of that?
Favre: Absolutely. It’s 100% drug free. As a matter of fact, I’m still learning. I didn’t realize the body reacts to some of the chemicals in CBD — the healing qualities — I didn’t realize that was the case. I’m not a science guy, that’s not my expertise (laughing), but I can speak volumes on the risk of taking pain medication.
‘Three different times I spent time in drug rehab and had a severe addiction to pain killers and had two seizures, so I’m definitely an advocate for non-addictive pain relievers and this is one of them.
Do you wish you had this (Green Eagle product) back in your playing days? I think it was 1995, 1996 when you had the seizures.
Favre: “So basically the seizures were a result of not sleeping. I was taking 15 Vicodin ES every night. I took them all the time — in season, out of season, it didn’t matter — I was addicted. It kept me up. A normal person takes two Vicodin ES, so they are out like a light and don’t feel anything. Well it did the adverse effect to me, it felt good and I stayed up all night and never slept.
“I probably slept an hour a night and vastly at that. Basically my brain short circuited is how the neurologist explained it to me. I really wish there was a different alternative at the time.”
Was that just something that was prescribed to you at the time?
Favre: “Well, I took two for a while and graduated up to 15. So after a game, if you had something bothering you (taking Vicodin) wasn’t uncommon — it was legal. Whether it was Vicodin or Percocet or whatever. When the two didn’t work, I asked somebody else to get two more. And when four didn’t work, so I was just going to the guys and getting more and more pain pills. The guy that gave me two, he didn’t know I was getting two from the next guy. That’s how it worked back then.”
How did you fight it?
Favre: “I haven’t taken a pain pill since 1997. Anything. In fact, i had my wisdom teeth cut out the year after I quit taking pain meds and the doctor said ‘What kind of pain meds you want?’ and I said ‘I can’t take any.’ He said back, ‘No one has their wisdom teeth cut out without pain medication.’ I said ‘Well, I’m going to be the first one.’ I’m telling you, it was hard.
You were able to play for 13 more years without pain medication. How were you able to handle that?
Favre: “The closest thing I took to a pain medication was Motrin and I just — sucked it up. I knew I couldn’t take them. Believe me it wasn’t easy to get off of and that’s why I spent three different stints in rehab. It was hard, it was very hard, but when I finally got several months behind me without pain meds, it slowly and surely got better. There would be times where I was tempted, but I just never did and now I’m well over it — the need or want to take something.”
You still continue to live a very active lifestyle since you retired. What do you do to stay in that peak physical shape?
Favre: “I’m more active, but it’s different. I bike probably about 130 miles a week and I’ll probably be doing this again this year, but in the fall I’ll start training for a half marathon. Me, my wife, and my daughter if we decide to do it — that will be our fourth straight year. If you would have told me I was going to run a half marathon when I retired or bike 5,000 miles a year, I would have said you’re crazy. I’m probably more active at 50 then when I played.
“People say to me all the time ‘Hey you look like you can still play.’ It does make me feel good.”
I can’t imagine doing all this at 50!
Favre: “I enjoy it. I get aches and pains, probably like anyone at 50. I can’t complain, because I’m doing basically what I want to do.”
Do you think you could still play football?
Favre: Oh, I could play — but I couldn’t get hit. There’s no way. My body would just give out. As far as throwing, and I tell people this about (Tom) Brady. His game is different than mine. He doesn’t move around and he never was a mobile quarterback, so his game is different. If you can protect him, he can play as long as he wants. My game, I didn’t move around as well as I did (earlier in my career) in the last two or three years.
“I didn’t trust my legs. I bought time throughout my career with my legs. My legs are strong and athletic as ever, but they are 50 years old and I can’t get away from the guys. From that aspect I couldn’t play, but just from a throwing aspect, sure.”
I was impressed when you were balling with the Vikings at 40. When you were getting to that point, what were you telling yourself to prepare for the year? You told me you weren’t scrambling as much at that point.
Favre: I’ll tell you, that was hard. It’s hard to train your mind differently than what it’s used to. Trying to be a pocket passer was very difficult for me to do because I always wanted to — the first sign of a guy that put the least bit of pressure, I wanted to move and escape (from the pocket). I was able to do that a little bit, but the good thing was when I was in Minnesota was Darrell Bevell (then the Vikings offensive coordinator) — who was a good friend, but also a longtime coach of mine — he did a good job of calling plays that sort of, kept me within my wheelhouse.
“We called some bootlegs, but we weren’t doing sprint-outs each week. So it was selective play calling that let me stay in my comfort zone. It’s hard to tell yourself to stay in the pocket when you are so used to making so many plays outside of the pocket.”
Do you still keep in touch with (Eagles head coach) Doug Pederson? I know you guys are really close.
Favre: “His wife, Jeannie, just was talking to my wife yesterday. In fact, I think they found a place down in Jupiter, Florida — a getaway place. We stay in contact often. He’s one of my all-time great friends.”
That friendship just carried over to your post-playing career, which led to you speaking to the Eagles prior to Super Bowl LII. Can you reiterate what you said to them?
Favre: “I was honored when he asked, just like when (Kansas City Chiefs head coach) Andy Reid asked me this past year. By the way, I’m 2-for-2 (in Super Bowl speeches). I’m going to have to start charging next time (laughing)!
“Basically what I told both groups is to enjoy the moment and really try to give them a fast track on what to expect. Spend the time leading up to the game and vision making plays and seeing yourself making a perfect pass and seeing yourself at the end of the game with the confetti coming down, because it can be overwhelming, as you can imagine.
“It’s overwhelming to the viewer, how big of a spectacle it has become. You can’t get caught up in that and you have to focus on your job. The best way to do that is when you’re in your room and you’re by yourself is to walk through the plays. You know, walk through a speciality play you just put in that week and envision how it plays out versus that defense. Walking up to the line and looking across and seeing that middle linebacker stare at you. What happens if he moves over here, does that tell you — you know, play the game in your mind so when you get out there it’s not overwhelming to you.”
Watching Super Bowl XXXI a couple times over the years, I felt what took the pressure off you guys was when you threw that bomb to Andre Rison to give Green Bay the first score of the game. Was that the moment the game slowed down for you?
Favre: “In 20 years (of playing football), that was the play that I would go to (as what) was my greatest play. That audible that I checked to — Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator (of the New England Patriots) and Bill Parcells was the head coach — and they had never when we watched two weeks of film showed an all-out blitz. That’s not Belichick’s M.O. He’s always going to leave someone back there.
“Watching Super Bowl highlights all week, you can’t help but watch them, I saw Joe Montana check 59 Razor in the Superdome (where Super Bowl XXXI was played) against Denver and hitting Jerry Rice on a big post for a touchdown (San Francisco’s 55-10 win in Super Bowl XXIV). I thought to myself, ‘Man that would be awesome (if I did that).’
“Then I quickly reminded myself that would never happen because first of all we would never check to that play ever. We would practice it, but never checked to it in my history with Green Bay leading up to that. New England never showed that, so lo and behold they showed what I thought was an all-out blitz and I had to make a decision like right now. Do I check to this play?
“Making the throw that I made, it couldn’t have been any better of a throw. A lot of things could have gone wrong, but they all went right. That’s why I took my helmet off and started running around (after the touchdown). I was thinking “Can you believe that actually happened!’ That’s what I was so excited about.”
I remember you running to the sideline and it was you, Jim McMahon and Doug (Pederson) celebrating. Man, what a quarterback room that must have been!
Favre: “Oh that was awesome and Andy (Reid) was our coach. He put all of us together. We really had some great times together.”
You can relate to Tom Brady a lot here. You spent 15 years with the Packers, then you go and join another team in the Jets and eventually the Vikings at the end of your career. Brady is going through the same thing with Tampa. What advice would you give to him?
Favre: “It’s so different with COVID-19 since you couldn’t spend any time at the facility, which is very difficult because you want to familiarize yourself with everything quickly. You don’t want to show up to a game week and play. There’s a huge amount of chemistry that’s involved in being successful, we all know that. From a quarterback standpoint, it’s paramount that you get some chemistry with the guys. That’s out the water. Giving him advice that way would be a waste of words.
“What I told Tom, and I talked to him at the Super Bowl (this past year) when they did the 100 greatest players before the game: Enjoy yourself man, you have zero to prove to anyone. That being said, he’s the ultimate competitor. He going to show he can do it no matter where he plays. He will not go into the season ill-prepared, I can assure you that.
“The question is, will everyone rise up to his level? And that’s what everyone assumes, that he will elevate the rest of that team to his level. I tend to agree with that assumption.”
Have you spoken to Aaron Rodgers since the Jordan Love pick? You kind of went through this ordeal yourself in Green Bay.
Favre: “I think initially he was a little upset not that they drafted a quarterback, but they didn’t draft an immediate need — and he has a legitimate beef there. When we drafted Aaron we were going off of a bad year and we needed a lot. They didn’t trade up to get Aaron.
“The difference this year was they were coming off almost a Super Bowl appearance and needed a receiver opposite Davante Adams. Certainly an offensive weapon that can help right now, but yet they not only chose a quarterback but traded up for one. And Jordan Love may be a great player. He absolutely didn’t do anything wrong. I was just surprised the Packers didn’t go with an immediate need.
“They certainly have their reasons, but I think initially Aaron was just a little bewildered that they would to that. I mean, he’s got nothing to fear. He’ll play as long as he wants to play and he’s got nothing to worry about. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest players in history, so he certainly is not threatened by someone else taking his job.”
How did you feel when Andy Reid finally got that Super Bowl?
Favre: “I was so happy for him. We stayed and watched the game and Deanna, my wife, said to me we needed to go down and see him afterwards. I wanted to give him a big hug and just to see his face and his reaction told you how much he wanted that and how much he appreciated it.
“Andy is one of the all-time great guys in this league and was so deserving of that win. He’s one of my all-time favorites. He was so awesome to play for. You can’t help but love him.”