The Super Bowl is only a few days away. From the game itself to the halftime show to the commercials (of course!), the event has something for everyone. Most people who tune in, however, won’t realize that behind the scenes, a different competition is going on: the National Football League (NFL) vs. drug use.
Some NFL players may abuse prescription drugs to cover up the pain that can result from football-related injuries. Or they may take performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), like anabolic steroids, trying to make themselves stronger and (they hope) play a better game.
The NFL’s drug policy—which it developed along with the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA)—takes a stand against PEDs as well as other substances. But the policy doesn’t score with some critics, who think it isn’t strict enough.
No illegal kicks
The League bans players from using, possessing, or distributing drugs like cocaine, marijuana, painkillers such as opioids, MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy), and PCP. Amphetamines are also banned unless the player has a genuine, proven need to use them for a medical condition. The policy also covers alcohol use that’s associated with breaking the law: for instance, failing a breath-alcohol test.
In 2014, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a separate policy for PEDs. It bans players’ use of anabolic steroids, stimulants, human or animal growth hormones, and related PEDs.
NFL players are tested for drugs at certain points throughout the season, and again at other times if a player fails a drug test, or is arrested in connection with drug use, or shows signs of drug abuse.
Time to move the goalposts?
If a player violates the NFL’s drug policy once, he receives 90 days of treatment and the unannounced testing. Second-time violators get two years of treatment and testing, plus a four-game suspension if they don’t stick with the treatment or they test positive. Three-time offenders who don’t stay with treatment or who have a positive test for marijuana get a 10-game suspension, and a year-long ban from the League for using other drugs.
People who think the NFL drug policy should be tougher point to players like Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns’ 24-year-old wide receiver, who has already faced four suspensions (two of them lasting a year each). And in 2014, there were 41 drug-related suspensions in the League—an all-time record—and the current season may break that record.
A lot of people look up to the players, and critics worry that when so many NFL players are violating drug policy, it sends a bad message. The League may or may not “move the goalposts” for players who use drugs—but either way, the consequences for those players are a reminder that using banned or illegal drugs for any reason is a losing game.