A Former NHL Fighter Riley Cote Is Now One of Hockey’s Biggest Marijuana Advocates

For Riley Cote, a former left wing for the Philadelphia Flyers, his unofficial job was getting “punched in the face for a living,” as he puts it. His informal role as an enforcer or “goon” meant he was expected to throw down with anyone giving the star players a hard time. In his playing career, Cote has been in more than 250 fights on ice, some of which left him with lifelong injuries.

Like the National Football League and other full-contact sports, the NHL has had to contend with persisting damage to players, including concussions. But Cote thinks he has a potent remedy: marijuana.

After retiring in 2010, Cote came out as an advocate for hemp and cannabis, founding the Hemp Heals Foundation and co-founding Athletes for Care, a post-career organization for professional sports players. He says the therapeutic properties in weed helped him survive his eight years in the league. I called Cote at his home in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania to discuss addiction, fighting, and getting high to come down from the stress of a game.

Riley Cote told:

I was what you’d call a mindless warrior. I had spirit, but I didn’t do things necessarily the right way. It certainly put me where I needed to be in life, let’s put it that way. It woke me up and isolated some public health issues. [I took] notice of the state of emergency that society is in with physical health, mental health, and addiction issues.

This is stuff that’s not really taught. A lot of self-medicating cannabis stuff, I figured out on my own. If you play in the NHL now, even the minor leagues, you will have every resource available to man, almost to the point where there’s no way you can fail. They have a nutritionist, they have a sports site guy, they have a sleep specialist, all the strength and nutrition guys you can ever imagine. They take every vital, they look after every little part of your body.

“I went to a fight once and a hockey game broke out.”

The next step is offering these tools that can alleviate some of these problems that wind up trickling into people’s lives as they go on with their career, but eventually transition into the real world. The mental health issues are the big ones that need to be nipped in the bud. Cannabis and all these different types of things that I’ve changed along the way can eliminate or at least help these guys avoid it.

About his discovery of weed..

I was introduced to cannabis at 15 years old. It was a black market thing, so it ended up being at party scenes. I started consuming a little more in my junior hockey days, [when I discovered] the therapeutic values of it: promoting relaxation and rest, promoting sleep. So I quietly kept doing it into my pro career.

Obviously, there’s other elements that I’ve changed to promote that, but I honestly believe that the cannabis and CBD  I take really helps with waking up in the morning, promoting just a state of well-being.

What he told about hockey and fights…

It’s certainly changed a lot from back in the Slap Shot days and the Broad Street Bullies, when there were line brawls and bench brawls every other game. There is still fighting allowed, but they restricted the amount and the type and the refs get involved a lot more than they used to.

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It’s really an element of self-policing. Like on the street, police officers are there to keep the peace, take care of penalizing the players, but if something is missed, well, then the players get their retribution with fights.

So there’s this huge psychological warfare type of thing. It’s almost like a mini war zone—you never know when a fight can happen, but it’s always tense. A lot you see now are more spontaneous, emotional fights by guys that really shouldn’t be fighting. If a ten million-dollar guy loses a fight, breaks his hand or orbital bone, you miss him for six to eight weeks because of it.

How about marijuana and NHL?

Well, it wasn’t before games, it was always after, as a recovery tool and the night before. Back then, I was still not sure if consuming during the day was a moral thing to do. There’s probably a bunch of years where I struggled with the spirituality of it because it went against everything I had been taught and told as a child. I struggled with that for a long time, maybe until my early 20s, when I said, you know what, I’m gonna listen to my body and the way I feel and go with it. I started building my own personal philosophy around that, but a lot of it being every night after games.

I mean after you’ve [had] three pots of coffee before a game and crushed two Red Bulls and ate some Sudafed, [the way] your mind is running after a hockey game, it’s not gonna relax anytime soon. So the only thing I could do was put myself to sleep with some cannabis. There were no other options. And it worked. It worked really well.

On the other side of that, I was doing that because I was going to war in a sense. I was going to fight, so I didn’t want to go up there just casual and with my guard down—I’m going out there in kill mode, and it’s hard to relax when you do that.

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