“I don’t think I’m a bad guy for choosing this route. I stand up for what I believe in.”
Just a few months shy of his 26th birthday, David Irving retired from football.
Facing an indefinite suspension following his third drug violation in as many seasons, the 6’7” 290-pound defensive tackle took to Instagram to announce his decision.
“Basically, I quit,” he told viewers while smoking a celebratory joint to emphasize his point. “Marijuana is medicine. I do not consider it a drug. How many NBA players do you see getting in trouble about this? How many coaches do you see getting in trouble about this? I don’t think I’m a bad guy for choosing this route. I stand up for what I believe in.”
After his positive cannabis test triggered a visit to rehab, and with the indefinite suspension looming, Irving said he was done playing for a league that was quick to offer up painkillers and opioids for injuries but still held its nose to the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
“They were forcing us to take prescription drugs but we weren’t allowed to smoke weed,” Irving told The GrowthOp from Las Vegas earlier this year. “I was prescribed Seroquel, Gabapentin, Ambien, Xanax, Oxy’s (Oxycodone) and Hydro’s (Hydrocodone), but I didn’t agree with those rules. I felt like the least I could do was smoke weed. It’s natural, there are no negative side effects. It’s never killed anyone. The opioid epidemic killed 72,000 people last year, you know? So that was the main thing.”
In his time away from the game, Irving started a cannabis venture, Cannabis Passport Magazine. A monthly edition of rolling papers that includes articles, interviews, industry news, quotes, and promotions. The Cannabis Passport is one product, but Irving speaks of one day building a lifestyle company to address social issues. “We want to advocate, not just cannabis but every real issue,” he says.
Irving entered the industry without connections but he was determined to be part of something that he believes in. He says that, at first, conversations would routinely go over his head. He didn’t know what to ask, what to check, how to gauge the legitimacy of what was being discussed. But that’s changed now.
“I’ve taken some L’s in the business already but I feel like that’s the best way to learn and I have learned,” he says. “I’ve grown as a businessman, as a cannabis entrepreneur, and as an entrepreneur in general. I love it, man.”
He also loves football, he says, he just doesn’t always love all that comes with it. His time away from the NFL allowed him to work on himself, to spend time with his daughter, and to figure out his next moves.
“I feel like I’m a much wiser man, you know?” he says. “I do have a love for the game. It taught me a lot — leadership skills, people skills, responsibility, accountability.”
Earlier this month, he completed the league’s reinstatement process and last week, he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, where his former defensive coach in Dallas, Rod Marinelli, is now on staff. Irving hasn’t played in the NFL since October 2018 but could see the field as early as next week.
Despite the two-year layoff, Irving’s unmistakable talent for the game is still there. He’s played only 37 games in his career, all with the Dallas Cowboys, and just turned 27 in August. His combination of size, athleticism, and potential is rarely found in the league, let alone in the free-agent pool.
“I started over DeMarcus Lawrence, who has a $100-million dollar contract. I pushed him out of his position. I pushed Tyrone Crawford out of his position. You need me to be a nose guard? I’ll take whoever’s position is starting there,” he says. “I’m the only player in the NFL who can do that.”
Irving grew up in Compton but attended high school in San Jacinto, a city of about 50,000, where he set school records in the long jump and triple jump. He was a gregarious kid at school, according to his high school coach, Bill Powell.
“We could tell that he’s going be a pretty special talent if he wants to be,” Powell told The GrowthOp, speaking from California earlier this year. “A kid that size with that athleticism, they don’t come around these parts too much.”
Powell says it’s not only Irving’s athleticism and 7’3″ wingspan that sets him apart but also his flexibility, a critical skill for defensive ends that need to be able to slip past their offensive counterparts and cover a lot of ground, as quickly as possible.
“To this day, he can just do the splits right on command,” Powell says. “If he were in street clothes he could just do the splits. And he can stretch and put his whole chest on the ground. I mean, I’d be in traction. They’d have to call the paramedics if I even tried that.”
Powell says a lot of football players stand out in high school, but their lack of athleticism or ability tends to catch up with them at the next level. That’s not the case for Irving.
“He was just scratching the surface because he hadn’t played much football, he played some youth football down in Compton in the Snoop Dogg league but he barely played as a freshman and he didn’t play as a sophomore so he was just a big ball of clay that we were trying to get moulded.”
Snoop Dogg is still a sore spot. Irving and Snoop had a much-publicized back and forth when Irving announced his retirement. Despite their Compton connection and their passion for cannabis, Snoop went on ESPN and criticized Irving’s decision as setting “the wrong example.”
“If you sign up for the NFL, there are rules and regulations that have been put in place for over 75 years that you’re not gonna change no matter who you are or who you think you are,” he told Stephen A. Smith.
Irving says he felt Snoop’s comments were not coming from a place of understanding.
“Don’t go on national television and run your mouth if you don’t even know what’s going on and what it’s about,” Irving says. “I’m pretty sure if Snoop knew about the pharmaceuticals, his reaction would have been different, but he didn’t, and he didn’t care to figure it out.”
For Powell, it’s an example of how Irving’s message can get misconstrued.
“He was always passionate about trying to find something where he can make his mark on the world and do something positive for people,” Powell says. “I mean, he understands he has a rare talent. In the short time that he played in the league, you could argue he was in the top five at his position with the type of production that he had, but that was his main goal. He would say ‘I want to impact the world, I want people to know who I am and what I’m about, and I just want to try to help people.’”
In March, the NFL and the NFL Players Association came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, which among other measures, included cannabis reforms. NFL players can no longer be suspended for testing positive for pot, the testing window is now limited to the first two weeks of training camp and the threshold to trigger a positive result was increased from 35 nanograms of THC to 150 nanograms. Some players, like Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, have signed endorsement and investment deals with CBD companies this season.
Without Irving’s advocacy, who knows if those changes happen this year.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence,” he says. “Or it’s perfect timing.”
With his return to the field now imminent, Powell says his relationship with Irving hasn’t changed.
“I’ve kind of been that guy in his life where he doesn’t always like what I have to say to him, but I always try to have his best interest at heart. I just tell him I don’t give a damn if you play another down of football. I never have. It’s not about that. But if you’re going to do something, do it the best that you can, and make sure that you’re trying to leave an impact in this world because he has the forum to do it. He has a platform to do it. So how are you going to use that opportunity?”