It’s no secret that women’s sports leagues and athletes are constantly seeking new ways to market themselves, earn income and grow their brands. The issues of financing and marketability are ever-present in conversations about improving the place of women in sports. Well Rachael Rapinoe, a former athlete with a world-famous twin, thinks that she may have one of the keys to improving athletes’ health, building new partnerships and growing revenue for women in sports—CBD. Her new company, Mendi, is on a mission to use it to help athletes better recover and manage pain, support women and diversity and make some money.
Rapinoe, who co-founded Mendi with Kendra Freeman and Brett Schwager, explains, “we started Mendi based on a need. I played soccer and have a ton of friends (and obviously my sister [Megan Rapinoe]) who are still playing at the highest level. We’ve seen for years that athletes are given harmful drugs, pills and tools to mitigate pain management and recovery. Recovery is such a huge part of performance. So Mendi came out of a need to offer athletes a healthier way to manage their pain and to recover. Our mission is to improve athletes’ lives using nature’s best tools. All of our products are all natural and transparent. We’re also here to educate and to help athletes (amateur and professional) stay on top of their game with much healthier choices.”
Rapinoe and other cannabis advocates might be onto something. According to according to the Harvard Medical School, CBD which stands for cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). While CBD is one of hundreds of components of marijuana, it alone does not cause a “high.” According to a report from the World Health Organization, “…CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential….” CBD has been touted to alleviate a variety of health issues, including childhood epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia. Of particular importance for many athletes, CBC has also been offered as an option for treating chronic pain and inflammation.
So CBD could offer athletes a break from addictive pain pills and excruciating recovery in a natural, non-habit forming way. But this really isn’t breaking news. Rapinoe will be the first to tell you that the use of CBD for pain relief and recovery (even in sports) isn’t really new; it has just taken longer for women in the sports industry and the popular men’s leagues to catch on.
“It’s been known for quite some time that a significant number of the NBA, NFL and the MLB players have been using cannabis for years because they know that it’s so much healthier than popping in a Vicodin or Percocet. The trick for us was getting to the female athletes and getting them to use it because more male athletes historically used cannabis than female athletes.”
But while the women athletes and male leagues may have been slow to catch on, at least one women’s league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), is taking a more progressive approach. The NWSL policy allows its players to use cannabinoids like CBD for pain and recovery, has accepted sponsorship within the cannabis industry and has multiple teams who have partnerships with cannabis companies. In fact, Rapinoe’s Mendi has partnerships with the Utah Royals and NC Courage.
As Rapinoe highlights, “the NWSL is very progressive and that’s shown in their partnership with a CBD brand. They’re one of the few leagues that allows their players to use healthier products. That’s really worth noting—especially here in the US. I really hope that other leagues follow suit because I think that it’s like a very progressive decision and it’s gonna be more beneficial for their players for their long term health to be able to use products that are healthier compared to Advil, Ibuprofen, etc.”
Beyond improving the health of athletes, CBD offers the opportunity to infuse a great deal of much needed money into women’s sports. According to projections made in the “State of Legal Cannabis Markets” report, cannabis sales are expected to exceed $40 billion worldwide by 2024. And in 2020 in the US alone, the MJ Business Daily reports that recreational and medicinal cannabis sales are projected to surpass the NFL’s $15 billion in revenue. That’s a lot of money that could potentially go towards sponsoring women’s team, leagues and athletes. Picture it, CBD company logos on jerseys and ads with world-class athletes promoting their favorite CBD ointment. That opportunity has not been lost on Rapinoe.
“We decided early on to embed ourselves in the soccer space because there are no other brands in that sport. Really most of the other brands have saturated the combat sports (hockey, football and even MLB) but no one has really gone into soccer and basketball, especially not on the women’s side. So our strategy has been to own those two spaces and then kind of go out from there.
“It’s really important to us to use our resources to back women’s sports. We came to market being a brand of inclusivity, equality and equity. So we had to put our money where our mouths are by putting our dollars in women’s sports. Despite the lack of necessary regulations and federal acceptance, cannabis is big business. Conversely, women’s teams and leagues have nowhere near any of the resources that they should have. So it’s a great opportunity to put some of that money into what and who we believe in.
“The NWSL has very marketable players and the sport itself is one of the fastest growing in the United States. They should have more sponsors and resources. Given the size and the acceleration of the cannabis market we believe we can really grow with the NWSL and be good partners with them and their players. We believe that as we grow together we can simultaneously bring legitimacy to the cannabis market (through things like professional athlete endorsements) and women’s sports.”
Unfortunately, Rapinoe’s master plan for infusing money into women’s sports with big cannabis dollars has been hindered by the federal government. Although more than 30 states have legalized the use of cannabis in some way; under federal law, cannabis remains an illegal, Schedule I substance. That means that most banks and major creditors like Visa and Mastercard won’t do business with cannabis companies. That also means that federal arms like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) won’t create regulations to ensure the safe, honest production of cannabis products. Federal support with the passage of pending legislation like the SAFE Banking Act, would give the cannabis industry significant legitimacy and allow it to thrive even more. But until federal entities distinguish Mendi from the Sinaloa Cartel, Rapinoe and others like her will have to work a little harder to get consumers and financial institutions to support them, and in turn, women’s sports will have to wait a little longer for the cannabis cash cow to come in.
“I think that education is going to be key for this market to mature. Educating the consumers and government on the true benefits and even limitations of CBD will help us gain the legitimacy that we need,” predicts Rapinoe.” We are very much committed to supporting women in sports so we look forward to increased education on cannabis which will allow us to support world-class athletes on an even greater scale.”