(USA) Clayton Holmes, 47, is a former NFL player. Today he’s an activist for federal Cannabis law reform. He believes that Cannabis should be removed from the DEA’s list of Schedule One substances, which are those the DEA considers useless and harmful. His story is one of many ups and downs. He was drafted to the Dallas Cowboys out of college and played in three Super Bowl wins. Ultimately, he suspended from the NFL after testing positive for cannabis in only one drug screening after having smoked pot 3 times in his entire life. Today, Clayton is happy to share his story with me so I can share it with larger audience. The Solutions Institute is helping Clayton increase the reach and power of his message. (Note: Some coarse language and descriptions of marijuana and alcohol use might make the interview NSFW (“not safe for work”) .)

Early Years


S.I. – Tell us a little bit about your background, and growing up in South Carolina? And give us a nut shell of your life leading up to being drafted in the early 90’s?

Clayton – Growing up in the south the one thing that I look back on and wish it wasn’t this way… That you were told you things and you were not able to share your opinion or your ideas. There was still racism in South Carolina when I was going to school there. My mother had four boys and we all had different dads and we moved around a lot.

I want people to understand that I’m going to be talking about some things that may come up about my parents, but I am truly at peace with everything. The reason why I’m talking about this is because it’s my job to help now. So I didn’t growing up in a family that was very encouraging there were a lot of curses put on us. And what I mean by curses is; I don’t think it’s a cool idea to tell your son or daughter You ain’t going to be shit, you demon, you little monster, So I feel like those words are like curses that you would put on your child And there was a lot of that when I grew up. And I know where it comes from it’s this long chain of events that happens in our families. It’s up to us to realize that, and wake up and start changing things and making things better for the next generation.

S.I. – Do you feel like your family was a little bit too emotionally abusive or were they even physically abusive?

Clayton – Physically, mentally, and sexually. And, in some weird way I’m thankful that I figured this out now, and why it happened. If we’d been talking about it 15-20 years ago I would have been still in the blame game. Half of the people in my family were ministers from men to women, and they still have that anger in them, they don’t have that peace in them yet. And that’s what I’m here to do. I don’t care what your religion is. Or who believes what, I want you to be a better christian, or a better Mormon… Whatever the case may be if you choose to believe that. There’s just not enough peace, especially where I came from. They were never taught that, never taught how to encourage people. It’s difficult for someone to try and encourage another, if they’ve never experienced that before.

So Growing up in South Carolina, the first 11 years of my life, it’s amazing, I was headed down the path of being a crook, a burglar. I was stealing. I remember the first time I got “shown some love,” I was with my older brother we went to a store, and he told me he was going to go distract the girl, you know the lady at the counter, and he wanted me to get snicker bars, or other things. So we go into the store, we do what my brother says, and by the way… If Bam told you to do something you did it, or there were some serious consequences. So, after we left the store he asked me, “Did you get it?” I said, “Yeah,” he put his arm around me and said, “Oh man, good job!”

So now I’m walking around, and my brother just gave me some praise. So what do you think I’m gonna continue to do? Stealing! And I went from stealing in stores to breaking into homes.

S.I. – So this lead to the lifestyle of gang mentality And the like?

Clayton – Yes it did. As people we tend to be programmed, and I can see where I was being led astray. This is where my life started to change. When we broke into a house, they lifted me up and put me through the window to get in… And the first thing I would do at every house was go into the kitchen and find something to eat, while the older guys were looking for the valuable stuff. So we break into this house… The one we got caught, and it was the one time I stood up to Bam, I said; ‘Hey Bam, man you guys go in, I’m going to just stay out and watch.’

They were in their for a while. So I snuck back over and opened the door, and they had that place ramshacked. We knew this guy, and (one of our own) guys necklace fell off. We all got caught, everybody goes to court. I went in front of the judge, and he basically said; “Mr. Holmes, we’re going to show you leniency since you were not inside the home.” And they put me on probation. That is when my dad had remarried, and was working for the railroad. My Step-Mom basically encouraged dad into taking my mom to court for custody of me. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, even though I didn’t realize it at the time and it was the first time I tried to kill myself. I wrote a letter, and put the letter up under my pillow and took some pills she had on top of the refrigerator, but I woke up.

S.I. – Did you go to the hospital after that event, after taking all those pills?

Clayton – No, and I don’t know what they were to this day. I just woke up, and didn’t tell anybody. I grabbed the letter, ripped it up and threw it in the trash.

So I went from being poor, to having my own room, (having) 3 meals a day, a whole new set of friends, and I really started getting involved in sports. I went from poor, to middle class, with a whole new group of friends, and we can go on further about that if you want to.

(Author’s note; I did ask a couple more questions of Clayton regarding his childhood, and his starting sports off in baseball. To hear more about Clayton’s beginning, see video embedded into this article above.)

Into the NFL


S.I. – So baseball started you off in sports, and then you moved on to football from there?

Clayton – Yes… It was at my senior year of high school. The coach called me into his office, and he said to me; “Clayton, are you planning on going to college?”

I said, ‘Coach, I don’t even know if I’m going to graduate from high school.”
He said, “Son you are going to graduate from high school, and you are going to go to college, hell you could even play professional football!”

He was sincere, and I felt it. When I left his office, my next class was english class, and I pulled out my notebook, and I started practicing my autograph. Which read; ‘Clayton Holmes, Dallas Cowboys.’

So long story short, it was a Sat. in April 1992, and I said; “Hey pop, if the phone rings, don’t answer it, I’ll get it it.” I go in his room and I lay down, and the phone rung. I jumped up, and answered it, and I said, ‘Hello.’ And he said, “Can I speak to Clayton Holmes?”

‘This is Clayton.’

“Hi, this is Jerry Jones. How would you like to be a Dallas Cowboy?”

‘I would love to be a Dallas Cowboy!’ And the rest is history.

Hallway at Texas Stadium of The Dallas Cowboys


S.I. – And you played for the Dallas Cowboys for a number of years?

Clayton – Yes, I got all my credits through the Cowboys, which is four. I went to Miami for a spell in ‘97, but I was on the decline by that time. You know, I got suspended for cannabis.

S.I. – Right, tell us about the incidents that lead to your being tested, talk about what lead to your loss of contract with the NFL?

Clayton – After three years my contract had ended with the Cowboys. I wasn’t smoking marijuana. The guys I hung out with, they smoked marijuana, and I remember… I was about to ask my wife for a divorce, we were riding around in the car and these guys were smoking a joint and I said, ‘Hey man, give me that joint?’ And they were like “What?” Because usually I was shy, and I just said, ‘I’m about to ask my wife for a divorce. So I smoked a joint, and I (usually) didn’t speak much, but we just started talking about relationships, and they were quiet.

Two months later, Detroit Lions were thinking about signing me, so I had to go up to Detroit to work out for them. On the way I called my agent, and three times I had smoked marijuana. So I asked my agent… He said; “You’re fine, they cannot test you for anything but steroids.”

A week later I get a call from a Dr. Brown at the NFL and he asked, “Can you tell me why there is cannabis in your system?” And I said, ‘Yeah, because I was smoking.’ (Brown) said; “Okay, that puts you into the NFL drug program, and you have to submit ten UA’s a month, you have to to start seeing the team psychiatrist, and attend NA/AA meetings.”

(Once Clayton starting talking to a psychiatrist about his past, he says; “It opened pandora’s box!”)

That was when my career really went on the decline. I didn’t care, I was embarrassed about who I was, I hated everybody in my family. That’s when the (different) journey started for me.

S.I. – You filed a lawsuit at that time correct? (The lawsuit was lost and an appeal was filed)

Clayton – Yes… And they weren’t supposed to give me the drug test. The NFL thought that Dallas had given me the drug test. I was under contract with Dallas at the time, and they could drug test me. When we told them that Detroit had tested me they said that the appeal had not been filed in time, so the drug test counts.

Ending Cannabis Stigma


S.I. – Tell me about the impact that had on your life, and your viewpoints now regarding cannabis use?

Clayton – What are the odds of me ending up in Washington State? I got here in 2009, I think in 2012 they became one of the first states to recreationally legalize cannabis. And I got a job with a Medical Cannabis Dispensary called Have A Heart, and I realized that the whole time I was telling them in (NFL) treatment the reason I was using cannabis. It helps with my focus, and I can eat. Again I had told them that, but it was just in one ear and out of the other. The reason I was using was it helps my focus and concentration, eating, and even sex is better.

S.I. – So how much of a culture shock was going from Carolina, and Texas in the south, to Washington,and in a place where the recreational use of marijuana is accepted, and basically on every corner?

Clayton – It’s one of the best feelings, not having to hide it. If you’re in South Carolina, you know you have got to hide what you are doing. And so cool to be able to go sit out the deck, and smoke me a bowl, and I don’t have to worry about anything. I got suspended for cannabis, and left a lot of money on the table, and I feel like this part of my life is to just get people to understand that you are dealing with a herb, that is anti-inflammatory, and helps pain and anxiety. This plant can heal us naturally, and it’s just good to help prove that this is medicine. And it’s time for people to wake up.

S.I. – Going back to the NFL, were you a part of the most recent class action settlement players had brought regarding concussion injuries? Tell us a little bit of your opinion regarding the concussion debate in football?

Clayton – Yes… I did do the test last October, and it was found that I did have some issues. So (recently) I just got back from California, allowing the NFL medical professionals check me out. I’ve had problems with memory, and things have just been getting worse. Now we’ve pinpointed what we think the problems are, and I can begin treatment programs.

I am taking treatment very serious, and I have a question for the Doctors out there… I wonder if things like ADD, and Dyslexia can be caused from concussions also?

I remember getting concussions when I was little, in high school, and through the NFL. Not all of these concussions were football related, but I wonder there has to be a reason why I struggled learning? I am on board with all of (the studies) because I believe that concussions have something to do with (learning disabilities).

S.I. – Talk a little about the recreational use shrouding the medical benefits the plant has to offer?

Clayton – The dispensaries now in Washington are doing what I hoped they would not do. They can no longer talk to you about the best thing to use for medical (purpose). For example, before if a patient came in and had stage three cancer, and asked for a recommendation, we could tell them the best thing to use. They can’t talk about that (anymore).

This is now all about recreational, and we need to continue to talk about the medical benefits of this plant. It’s just that simple. But this is about money, and (opposition) is already starting.

Illegal Cannabis Field

S.I. – I really like the fact that you want to continue the focus, and continue the questions for this debate to go further, on the medicinal value of cannabis because therein lies where we get our recreational use anyway. Okay, so again I want to circle back to the NFL, and get your opinion on a statistic that fifty percent of players in the NFL utilize cannabis, most just do it in secrecy?

Clayton – Yes… I think it may be even more than fifty percent. There are some guys that are really smart, and there are some guys that go overboard. Let’s put it like this; There are random steroid tests, where you come in and a computer spits five names to best tested for steroids out of the roster. If they did that for cannabis, there probably wouldn’t be an NFL!

S.I. – What advice do you have for players or anybody really, that do not have a recommendation, and currently live in an area where the stigma of cannabis use is still great?

Clayton – I would say continue to educate yourself on this plant, and join the movement with helping get this off of the banned substances list. A lot of people hear me talk about this and they think I’m giving people the green flag to just smoke anytime you want… It’s like no man, you cannot come to work drunk, you cannot play drunk. You cannot come to work high, you cannot play high. Using cannabis is for sitting in the comforts of your own home to help you feel better. Just educate yourself, and join the movement, because you’re not doing anything wrong. If alcohol made it’s way back, cannabis will.

S.I. – We’ll wrap things up here with that, please tell us any ventures that you have planned for the future?

Clayton – My plans are to share my life’s story, and continue with the things I’m doing now. I really understand, especially from football, the power of a team. And now my goal is to just share my life and how I overcame certain things, and how I learned to take responsibility for myself. If you’ve been through some shit in your life, you are one of the special ones, because you learned from that.




(Much of this lengthy interview was not transcribed for ease and readability, to access the full unedited interview simply watch the video above.)

Clayton is also working with Solutions Institute for assistance on a project to remove cannabis from the FDA listing as a schedule one substance of no medicinal value. The outcome of such an undertaking will be closely followed by myself, and will be reported on. You can find out more about Clayton Holmes or contact him via his own website

This is by no means the first NFL player to come forward against the league regarding it’s cannabis policy. In fact this fight has gone on now for years. And as admitted by Clayton and science itself, there are far more individuals that could likely benefit from the use of cannabis over prescription and harmful substances. This mindset and ideology can be expanded to the military, workplace, and so much further, that the implications only scratch the surface of our imagination. Please keep yourself informed, and as always, we will help.

Interview prepared by James Job, technical assistance, and video editing by Ted Metz.

Get the best tips, tricks, how-tos and victory news for activists, by activists:

Get the latest tips and how-tos, from activists, by activists:

The Solutions Institute is the premier source for how-to articles, news, victories from around the activist world, and powerful tools. You'll get no more than one email, per day, from us. Promise. 

Success! You're now getting inspiring, helpful, and awesome emails in your inbox each day. Be sure to look out for emails with the title "Solutions Wire."