American #1 and World #14 John Isner signed an endorsement deal with Defy, a CBD infused sports drink, making him the first major tennis player to enter the growing marketplace. He will wear a Defy patch on his hat, and he will drink the sports drink during matches. Defy is not new to the world of high profile athletes. The company was co-founded by Terrell Davis, the former star running back for the Denver Broncos. Isner released a statement about the appeal of Defy for his game, saying, “I play a sport where taking a single point off can be the difference between winning and losing a match and Defy is a product specifically intended to put me in a position to perform on every single point.” Isner clearly signed this endorsement not just for the money, but for actual interest in the product and its benefits.
What is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol oil and is a marijuana extract. The oil is non-intoxicating, meaning it does not make you high like the drug does because it lacks THC, but proponents claim it still retains the positive effects. It has been claimed to cure things such as sleeplessness and anxiety; and in the case of Isner, it is said to improve athletic performance as a muscle recovery aid. The oil is legal in the 30 US states that have legalized marijuana, and 17 other states including Isner’s current home state of Texas have specific laws regarding the oil.
The appeal of CBD is not universal, with many skeptics in the science and drug communities. With marijuana only being legalized in the last several years, there has been limited testing on the drug and the oil, making some of the claimed benefits unproven. The oil is not currently well regulated in the market, which could create potential dangers. Overall, it is not proven to have the results, but it is safer than marijuana, more accepted, and still supported by a large group.
CBD in Other Sports
The presence of CBD and even marijuana in sports as recovery is nothing new. The NFL has struggled with how to deal with marijuana, with former player Martellus Bennett estimating that 89% of the players in the NFL smoke, with other former players estimating between 75-80% of the league uses marijuana. American football is a physical game and many players have found the relaxing and recovery effects of the drug extremely helpful for their bodies. Many former NBA players have said that a majority of basketball players use the drug as well. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he is interested in loosening NBA drug policy on it once there is more information. The relaxation aspect of the drug for both the mind and body is a prime reason so many athletes use it, despite it being tested for in most leagues. CBD is changing the game in this regard, as it is much more accepted not being a drug, yet still retains many of the same effects that draw athletes to marijuana.
Other non-mainstream leagues have ventured into the field as well. IndyCar previously banned all CBD-related partnerships before changing their views on it and signing a deal in May. The BIG3 basketball league uses a CBD company, CBDMD, as its official jersey sponsor. Isner’s venture into the field is just one more example of the beginning of a potentially large growth.
Benefits of CBD for Tennis Players
Tennis is one of the most physically taxing sports, making any recovery edge a player can get massive. Isner is a prime example of a player who can benefit, with his 6’10” frame putting heavy stress on his knees and legs. Additionally, tennis players often will have to play five matches in a week if they make the final of a non-Major, and three or four of those matches generally fall on consecutive days. Players must find a way to recover less than 24 hours of playing a match that may have lasted as long as three hours. Isner especially could help from enhanced recovery, playing in two of the three longest matches in history.
Athletes in all sports have interest in the oil, but tennis being an individual sport, do not be surprised if it grows rapidly among tennis players. The benefits extend to during matches, where player do not have the luxury of a substitute if they cramp up, and must play through any pain. Tennis also does not have extended breaks such as the ones after quarters, periods, or halves; so players must constantly perform and push their muscles to the limit. Tennis players have notoriously short careers as well, so enhanced recovery could add years to their playing careers.
The interest in CBD makes sense for athletes and especially tennis players. However, it will probably take awhile to become widespread if it does because it is unproven. Players like Novak Djokovic, who monitor their health under a microscope, will likely not take a chance on the oil because its full effects are not completely known. At the same time, players are playing later than ever before (Isner is 34 years old) and anything to increase that longevity will be met with intrigue.
CBD related products will likely take some time to grow widespread interest across the ATP and WTA. At the same time, Isner is the first but will be far from the last to endorse and use a CBD product, but due to his age and size, is a fitting first entry into the field. Just as he said in his statement, as single point often is the difference between winning and losing a match. At the end of the day, tennis players strive for every edge they can get, whether it is advanced data or the newest racket technology, and if they believe they can get an edge with CBD oil, it should be no surprise if many players go all in for it.
Main Photo from Getty