“Know Your Drugs” – By Ger Sayers

Ok, let’s get the legal business out of the way. This is not a guide to encourage the use of possibly illegal or harmful substances. This is not a guide on the best strand of weed to roll into a nice, fat spliff. It’s not a guide to the best juice to get you benchpressing 400kg with ease. It’s not a guide for the best scent of Raydox or your preferred brand of “Bath Salts” for snorting during a Saturday to Wednesday session in the company of some banging EDM tunes. No, this is an educational piece to inform you, good people of The Vault, on the difference in the NFL between someone getting done for P.E.S/D aka Performance Enhancing Substances/Drugs and getting done for Substance Abuse aka all the stuff you probably consumed like a champion for a BONZA night out before kids and mortgages got in the way. All joking aside, this is gonna be a bit of a giggle (like after a few joints) while trying to explain why there is a difference, why it can be a problem playing a sport off your tits and why it’s not just your body in a contact sport you can really mess up.

~ I Take A Couple Uppers ~

The NFL carries out all its drug testing independently. It doesn’t conform to USADA or WADA testing, it does its own thing. Why? The Collective Bargaining Agreement. When comparing Olympic athletes to NFL players, you will see a huge difference between the standards. Most of the same stuff is banned by both but the type of testing and how it’s carried out are wildly different to one another. Here is a rough guide to the differences between the two. Side note, the NFL section only applies to P.E.S/Ds because we gonna talk about the substance abuse testing later.

The short and curlies of it is that Olympians and testers are on the clock 24/7, in and out of competition, injured or not when its comes to drug testing. Your location must be known at all times, there is no restrictions on where you go, you can go anywhere in the world, as long as the testers know where and they can just rock up at any time as long as you are in the testing pool. The tester won’t leave your side until they see you giving samples of blood and/or urine. Testers can just arrive to your reported location and will be your shadow until you pee and/or bleed for them. If they can’t find you at your reported location, you’ll get a call to say they are looking for you. From the time the tester gives you that call informing you about the coming test, you usually have sixty minutes to meet up with your new bathroom buddy and do the business. Now that is a brief synopsis of the protocols involved. As you will see when comparing with the NFL, you have enough information to see the differences between the two.

The NFL is a little more, let’s say, relaxed about the whole endeavor. Ten random players on every team get dinged for testing every week during the preseason, regular season and postseason. Any day, except for game day,  blood samples can also be drawn from five players in the lucky ten. A player can only be asked for a sample up to six times in the off season, then he’s in the clear until the following preseason begins and everyone gets hit at least once a year. If you are in the team’s facilities when you get the notice, you have three hours to give a sample for testing. If you are home, you have twenty-four. And sadly for NFL players, you don’t need to have a pee buddy when providing urine samples.

There is also a difference in the type blood testing. The NFL uses a system called Isoform when it’s looking for synthetic Human Growth Hormones, we’ll get to explaining those in a bit, which really only goes back about two days whereas USADA use a Bio-Marker test which can look back a couple of weeks.

Why the difference? The NFL players have a better Union than the Olympians. Once again, this is just a simple look at the protocols. All the information is online if you fancy going digging.

~ Honey, We Got Your Disease ~

So let’s have a look on what will get you time riding the pine and the differences between drugs. First we’ll look at the boring stuff to get you jacked up like a Mack Truck, P.E.S/Ds. I am purposely being vague with this stuff because I am not getting a call from the police asking why I am telling people how to get shredded with a needle in the ass, you can google that sh*t yourself!

According to the NFLPA website, these are listed under 3 categories:

1: Anabolic Agents: This is the biggest category of banned goodies. Everything from the stuff to make you as big as a bull to the stuff designed to chemically hide what you have been taking to get that big.

2: Masking Agents: This covers another technique of hiding what you are taking usually by making you sit on the porcelain throne for a few days. A lot of stuff on this list makes you empty your system like Seabiscuit after a week on the beer to flush you out. You can fail a test if your urine is too watery. It’s called a Diluted Specimen.

3: Stimulants: This is where all the stuff that gets the heart pumping like the engine in a freight train and the mind as sharp as a damascus sword.

Punishment for being caught is 2-6 games for first ding. Second one will get you ten games while number three will get you two full seasons to think about what you have done. You also lose out on a big wedge of money too, your entire pay for the length of the suspension . There is a catch with all of this though and it goes by the term Therapeutic Use Exemptions. Since quite a few of the substances on this list are actually perfectly legal as long as your body is deficient for whatever you are pumping back into it or you have a condition that needs one of the substances on the list that can fix it. T.U.Es can be a funny beast as you can legally take banned stuff as long as you can get a doctor to convince a board of medics that you need it. My favourite stories are the cyclists who only seem to need steroids for hay fever around the time they are trying to cycle up the side of a mountain during the Tour de France. Interesting…

~ Through The Ages She’s Heading West ~

Now we reach the fun stuff! The Substance Abuse Policy is fairly well laid out so let’s cut right to the middle of it. There is a very specific list of what you can be tested for:

  • Benzoylecgonine aka Cocaine aka Columbia’s Finest Export
  • Delta 9-THC-Carboxylic Acid aka Marijuana aka Sweet Stinky Weed
  • Synthetic Cannabinoids aka Spice aka K2 aka Blaze
  • Amphetamine and its analogues
  • Opiates such as Morphine and Codeine
  • Opioids such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone
  • Phencyclidine aka PCP aka Angel Dust
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine aka MDMA aka Molly aka “I can see the tunes, man!”
  • Alcohol aka what gets me through life’s issues

Now tied into all of this are a few exemptions. You can only be in trouble for alcohol if you have been in trouble for something else so it’s not really banned. Weed is held in a special regard to all of this. If you get done for anything on the panel besides the Devil’s Lettuce, the suspension is four games for the first fail, six for the second and a year for number three. If you get nailed for some fine White Widow in your lungs, you get four and six games for your first and second fails but on number three, you get 10 games and anything after that, it’s a year. Also you’ll lose some cash because you’ll get a fine as well. The fun thing about all of this is, the NFL test everyone from April 20th to August 9th or as part of Pre-Employment , if you don’t throw up a flag in this time, you free until the next April 20th or until a team doctor sees you chewing the gums off yourself while sinking bottles of water with glow sticks in hand, shouting lyrics to a Benny Benassi song you only hear in your head.

~ Your Lips Move, But I Can’t Hear What You’re Saying ~

I suppose I better give some sort of insightful view after all this technical talk. Is drugs in the NFL and sport in general a bad thing? Should we just open the gates and let the substances flow and see what happens? Should cheats be outright banned from the first detection? Here’s my take.

As a matter of personal opinion, no, I don’t think drugs in sport is a good idea and not for the usual “it’s against the spirit of sport” reason. If we take this in the context of gridiron football, it’s a contact sport and the idea of people filling themselves with stuff that makes them larger and faster with laser focus on the job in hand, which especially for the defence, is to inflict hits on others, all the while the guys being hit are juiced so they can’t feel pain, I would fear that we would turn on The Redzone Channel to watch 200kg of chemically enhanced humanity, like Bane from Batman, cave in some guy’s chest cavity like he just hit him with a sledgehammer. I don’t want to watch EMTs try to treat a guy with massive injuries while he’s telling them they are overacting because he feels fresh out of the womb.

That is where I also see the issue with drugs in sport generally. I don’t think you can just let everyone do as they please and expect not to see massive amounts of life changing and life ending injuries, not to mention what the chemicals could be doing to the guys who survive the sport itself. There is a case for less addictive alternatives to current treatments for injuries such as letting guys use Cannabis based pain medication, but until the public image and the legal status around them changes, I think more substances will be added to the list before things will be removed.

I also don’t think massive bans for first offenses work either as I would just make people go to more and more extremes in order to conceal what is going on. The whole endeavour is one of risk/reward. If we look back to the world of cycling and the likes of Lance Armstrong, he probably needed the hay fever steroids to get up the mountain of cash and fame he got before he caught out. He’s banned for life but still loaded and still talked about. I would imagine if you told someone you can take a banned substance that helped you play like Von Miller or Tom Brady, get paid like Matt Stafford or be as famous as “Broadway” Joe Namath and the chances of you being caught are tiny, I would imagine most people would take it, especially if the first time you get dinged is only a small ban and a fraction of the cash you are making while keeping everything else juicing has brought you before and after you got caught. If you give a season ban for first offenses with no pay AND in conjunction with fines for either substance abuse or P.E.S/Ds, maybe that would be a bigger deterrent since NFL careers are statically very short for most players and this would greatly hamper someone’s earning potential.

The problem with all of these is the CBA. The NFLPA would never ever agree to the possibility of a large number of members getting big suspensions and fines for first infractions or if the league wanted to bring in USADA’s highest testing program like the Olympians have to go though. According to Sportrac, if you bundle last season and the start of this one, twenty-six players got caught under the current rules, that’s not including guys who got DUIs. If you tot up the fines, it goes into the millions of lost salaries and fines. The current system is definitely not fit for purpose if The Texans’ Brian Cushing thought it would be ok to keep taking P.E.S/Ds after being hit before. He has lost over four million dollars and is out for ten games after already being fined and banned before.

Until everyone is singing the same song about drug use in the NFL, people will keep doing them, a lot will probably get away with it but the league will celebrate the ones they catch like a victory in the war against drugs while the NFLPA will probably claim it wasn’t the player’s fault and thus we will keep dancing this merry jig around and around…probably high off our asses.