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The National Football League and Drug Abuse
It’s nothing new for the National Football League’s players to be abusing anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Drug abuse in the league has recently focused around recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. The newest drug being abused is painkillers. The commissioner and his personal need to change their policies. Will they wait until many more players start to die before they tighten up their drug policies? The National Football League (NFL) can stop most of these drug problems by having more random drug tests given, enforcing stricter punishments when players are caught using drugs, and requiring every team to educate its players annually on the effects and consequences of all drugs.
The number of players abusing drugs in the NFL is increasing every year (www.cbs.sportsline.com). This is concerning because it seems like more and more players each year get caught either using drugs, or being involved in some kind of drug activity. The only drug being used that is on the decline is anabolic steroids. This decline is due to several players in the 1970’s and 80’s dying before they could see their kids make it to high school. The first player to publicly come clean about being addicted to drugs was Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. He was a Dallas Cowboys linebacker who played in three Super Bowls. He told the world about his addiction in 1981. He claims that a player using cocaine and marijuana was very uncommon at his rookie season. The more he played, the more drugs he began to take. He claims that since he came clean, the problems have been getting worse. More and more players keep doing drugs even after they hear of players having drug problems. If these problems keep getting worse, there could be major implications of young athletes all over the world.
Professional athletes with drug addictions are a major problem because these players are role models for young athletes all around the world. Many children see their idols getting caught using drugs and alcohol. This causes them to think that if their favorite player is using that drug, well then they should be using drugs also. (Nattiv and Puffer). There would be less young athletes experiencing with these dangerous drugs if the players would spend more time talking about the negative side of drugs. All the blame cannot be pinned on the players only. The NFL itself and its high officials are also to blame. If they would take action and acknowledge the drug problems, they could help the players stay away from these potentially fatal mistakes. If other corporation’s (except alcohol and tobacco companies) were leading children towards drugs and alcohol, they would probably do anything they could to prevent that from happening.
Major corporation’s require drug tests for people applying for a job position. This is a good way for companies to make sure they don’t hire employees with substance abuse problems. Hiring people with substance abuse problems is common in the NFL. This is concerning because the NFL requires a drug test for all players entering the league. Collegiate players entering the draft are tested before they can become eligible for the NFL. If a person applying for a corporate position gets caught with drugs in his system, they will be dismissed as a candidate for the job they were applying for. This is true for most corporations in America, but this is not true in the NFL. If a player entering the NFL draft is caught with drugs in his system, they only go down a few places in the draft. Many players each year are found to have traces of drugs in their bodies. The most famous collegiate player to get caught with drugs in their system is Warren Sapp. Sapp was supposed to be chosen in the top five of the NFL draft in 1995. In his drug test, traces of cocaine and marijuana were found (Price 50). Instead of being drafted in the top five, he was drafted in the top ten. A team used its number one draft choice (the player they thought would help their team out the best) on a known drug user. Any corporation in America would not hire a drug user to fill a major executive position. If a team decides to choose a player like Sapp, they need to monitor his drug abuse and test him until they are absolutely positive he is clean.
The NFL needs to test its players more. They also need to give random drug tests to all the players throughout the year. If the players have not been caught for drugs in the annual urine screening in training camp, that is probably the only time they will have to be tested all year (Adams 19). The player’s know they are tested in the pre-season so they can prepare themselves to pass the test. If they knew sometime during the year they were going to get tested, they would be forced to stop using drugs during the season. If not random tests during the entire season, the NFL should test its player’s quarterly. This would cause players to limit their drug use during the season to a minimal amount. This sounds like a good idea, but is testing the players that often really fair.
Testing the players more often would probably reduce the players using drugs. Testing people for all jobs annually would reduce the amount of drug users in society. That is not fair and not constitutional either. During an interview with John Mobley, a player for the Denver Broncos, he was asked what he thought about giving more random drug tests to the NFL players. He replied, “Random drug testing does reduce the amount of players using drugs during the season. How many times are teachers tested per year, none! Their job is a lot more important to society then being a football player. How come they are not giving random drug tests?” Mobley has a great point. In opposition to Mobley’s comment, the majority of children’s idols are athletes and not teachers. That is a major reason why athletes using can cause problems for young athletes in our society. If they don’t want to test all the players throughout the entire season, they should at least enforce stricter punishments if a player gets caught.
Enforcing stricter punishments will cause the players to consider the consequences before they decide to engage in any type of drug activity. Up until the 1980’s, the players weren’t even tested for using drugs. Once the NFL started losing its player’s to steroids, they decided it would be a good idea to test them (Taylor 54). The NFL’s drug policy has changed several times since it was first written. The policy now consists of three stages. When a player gets caught violating the drug policy his first time, he is evaluated by a psychiatrist and fined. The player doesn’t even miss a game. That is only true for illegal substances. If a player is caught violating the steroid or performance enhancing drug policy, he skips the first step and enters at step two and is suspended. Once a player is caught, he can be tested up to ten times a month. Almost every team has at least one player at this stage. If a player is caught a second time, he is fined and misses only four games. After he is caught twice, a player should be suspended for a year if not kicked out for good. If a player is caught a third time, he misses six games. A player is caught for the third time and is still not permanently suspended. It takes a player getting caught four times to be suspended for a year, but the player can ask for reinstatement after the year is up (www.nfl.com). This policy is basically saying if one can afford the fines, go ahead and use the drugs. Don’t get caught four times or the player will have to sit the season out. Like the majority of legal corporation’s in America, the he NFL should consider enforcing stricter punishments on players violating its drug policy.
In most professional jobs in America, if one gets caught using drugs once, it’s likely that person will be fired, and may have trouble acquiring another professional job the rest of his/her life. For example, Larry Webster, a Cleveland Brown’s player, has tested positive to drugs several times. He has played for many teams. He keeps getting caught abusing drugs, and teams keep signing him to large money contracts (Williams 62). If a player gets caught using drugs more then once, he should probably be permanently suspended from the league forever. If the NFL’s drug policy became harsher on the players, the severe magnitude of the consequences would scare them away.
The NFL’s drug policy is not only a drug policy. It is also an alcohol policy. If a player is arrested for any crime with alcohol involved, the player must enter the NFL’s drug and alcohol program. The NFL should not be as strict on the players involved in alcohol violations. Brian Griese of the Denver Broncos was arrested for a DUI after coming home from a night out with some friends. He was pulled over and had a BAC (blood to alcohol content) over the legal limit of 0.1 (www.totalsports.net). He was arrested and sent into the NFL’s drug and alcohol abuse program. When Griese was arrested, the whole country found out about it the very next day. If a teacher gets arrested for a DUI, their employer probably doesn’t ever find out and their life doesn’t get changed that much. Many people every day get arrested for DUI’s and that doesn’t mean that they have an alcohol problem. The NFL should let the players be punished by the local authorities and not by the NFL commissioner and his policies. The NFL commissioner should focus on drugs causing bigger problems to our society and to its players.
The NFL’s policy also needs to be revised for another reason. Certain substances that can be purchased over the counter can cause a player to be suspended. This happened to Jim Miller, a quarterback for the Chicago Bears. He used an over the counter dietary supplement that contained a banned substance called nandrolene (www.foxsports.com). Under the NFL’s drug policy, he has to be suspended for four weeks, suspended for taking a legal supplement. If he had taken cocaine, he would have faced no suspension. A player faces only a fine for their first time getting caught with non-performance enhancing drugs in their system. If a player gets caught for any performance enhancing substance, they must automatically receive a four game suspension. Miller said he was taking the substance because he coaches wanted him to lose 25 pounds. He said he didn’t know he had to look at the bottle and go through every ingredient to make sure the NFL allowed all the ingredients. If the players have to be this careful about taking a dietary substance, the policy should be revised and changed. The policy should focus on drugs causing bigger problems in the NFL. Problem drugs like painkillers, not dietary substances.
One of the major drugs being used today by the players cannot even be picked up in a drug test. This drug is called vicodin. It is a powerful painkiller which is both physically and mentally additive. When this drug is abused, it can cause severe seizures and lead to death (King 25). This drug wasn’t even noticed as a threat until three-time league MVP Bret Favre went public and announced his addition to the drug. Favre had taken up to 13 pills in one night. This is dangerous because over 50% of the league’s players use this drug. Many of the players abuse it like Favre, and most of them don’t know it is a serious problem. If not monitored correctly, any player could become addicted to vicodin. Vicodin is a powerful painkiller causing it to be twice as dangerous when used with alcohol. Most players in the NFL drink occasionally and probably while taking vicodin. This drug is tough for the NFL to monitor. This is because it is legal for the players to use. Excessive amounts cannot even be picked up in a drug test. The league could help conquer this problem by requiring every team to have mandatory team meetings. During these meeting, teams could educate their players on the effects of vicodin and other drugs. These meeting could help players like Jim Miller avoid careless suspensions.
Employers should educate their employees annually on possible acts that could lead to termination or suspension of their employment. This would educate employees on possible acts causing dismissal from their positions. The NFL should require every team to have mandatory annual meeting and films on the effects and consequences of all kinds of drugs (this would at least remind players of the reasons they are in professional sports and how much dedication it took to get there). Many players are not educated on certain drugs and the consequences of using them. If the NFL would educate the players, they could avoid being sued by them. Walt Sweeney, a former All-Pro guard for the San Diego Chargers sued the NFL for pushing painkillers on him during his playing career. He blamed the NFL for forcing him to become an addict. He won in court and the NFL was ordered to pay him $1.8 million (www.cbs.com). This is not only the NFL’s fault. Players are taught in junior high to play hurt, push their pain, and never give up. This is a law of being an athlete, and if painkillers are needed, that becomes a player’s prerogative. The player’s need to be taught how to use them correctly and monitored on the amount they take before they rely on them to play. If the player’s do get addicted, they need some private way to get help without the public finding out about their problems. They could get help through their teams and from their fellow players.
Along with these meetings, the NFL should require every team to start a semi-secret, self-help, peer group of teammates and front office personal. This group could help players discuss and get help on their drug problems. The Baltimore Ravens have already started a group like this. This group has turned Bam Morris (who was caught with cocaine and six pounds of marijuana in his car) away from drugs and back on the football field (Anderson 69). If every team would start a group like this, there would be more players turning there careers and lives back around. Players find it easier to talk to their teammates because other players are experiencing the same on and off field pressures. This might be the only way to stop players abusing painkillers like vicodin. A team that desperately needs a group like this is America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys. They have had more drug suspensions and fines then any other team in the 1990’s (www.cbs.sportsline.com). Their star player Michael Irvin was caught in a hotel room with several ounces of both cocaine and marijuana. He only received a small fine and a short suspension. Leon Lett and Clayton Holmes were both suspended for testing positive for illegal substances. Erik Williams was charged for sexual assault on a 17-year old girl while he was intoxicated (WWW). All of these criminal problems occurred within a year. If the Cowboys a semi-secret, self-help, peer group of teammates and front office personal, they wouldn’t experience so many drug problems.
The National Football League’s players have been abusing steroids for decades. The players now are abusing all kinds of drugs. Some of the drugs being abused are forced on them by injuries. New problems continue to develop every year. If the league doesn’t change their drug policies soon, they will just keep getting worse. Many of the younger athletes that will become professionals in the future are already abusing and possessing drugs. This can be linked to today’s idols using drugs. If the league changes their policy soon, they can prevent this drug outbreak from continuing to get worse. The NFL help solve all these problems by having more random drug tests given, enforcing stricter, and requiring every team to educate its players on all kinds of drugs.
Adams, Gerald T. “Are Today’s Athletes Tested Enough.”
New York Times 13 April 1997: 19.
“Broncos’ Griese Arrested for DUI.” 11 Nov. 2000. 30 Oct. 2000
Buck, Ray. “For NFL’s invincible warriors, drug use can be a fatal flaw.” 14 Sep 2000. 23 July 1998
Duca, Ron Del. “The NFL’s Drug and Anabolic Steroid Policies:” 16 Sep 2000.
18 Oct. 1999
Glazer, Jay. “Finding the Right RX.” 11 Nov. 2000. 24 Oct. 1999
King, Peter. “Bitter Pill.”Sports Illustrated 27 May 1996: 24-31.
Nattiv, Aurciia, and James C. Puffer. “Lifestyles and Health Risks of Collegiate Athletes.” Journal of Family Practice. Santa Monica Family Physicians (1991).
Mobley, John. Personal Interview. 6 Nov. 2000.
“NFL Drug Policy.” 9 March 1998. 16 Sep. 2000
Price, S. L. “Flying High Only Weeks Ago.” Sports Illustrated 27 March 1995: 48-52.
Taylor, William N. Anabolic Steroids and the Athlete. San Diego: Press Pacifica. 1982.
Williams, David “Webster Suspended for Alleged Drug Use.”
Sports Illustrated 14 April 1997: 60-68.
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