The NFL hasn’t exactly had it easy in the beginning of the 2014 NFL season.
Though there wasn’t the threat of a major lockout or the looming headaches and hassles that the replacement referees brought to the table last year, most would argue that the recent problems the NFL has been dealing with – specifically focusing on player conduct, drug abuse, sexual and physical assault, and a litany of criminal activity – are even worse.
However, almost unbelievably, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have come together (reached across the table) and made major changes to their performance-enhancing drugs (PED) and HGH drug testing policies, policies that have already had an immediate impact on the league and a number of high profile players.
Here is a quick breakdown of what the new agreement means for the NFL, for the NFLPA, for players, and the future of the sport.
Who are the major players that brought these changes about?
There are three major forces responsible for driving the new PED and drug testing agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association:
- Roger Goodell and the NFL itself
- DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA
- And high profile players like Wes Welker, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Gordon, and a handful of others
For years and years now, Roger Goodell and the people behind the NFL have wanted stricter PED and HGH test, with a focus on HGH. In years gone by, testing for enhanced HGH levels was next to impossible, but recent tests allow trained professionals to determine whether or not an athlete is taking advantage of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
However, the NFL PA (led by DeMaurice Smith) has fought that effort every single step of the way. Most people believe that the reason that the NFL PA has been so steadfast in ducking the enhanced testing is because they understand that an overwhelming majority of the players that they represent are taking HGH (and other PED’s), and they don’t want to throw their members under the bus, so to speak.
The two organizations have also fought over drug testing and the punishments for DUIs, DWIs, drug possession, and the use of marijuana (which has been legalized in a number of states that host NFL franchises).
However, the NFL and NFLPA both agree athletes breaking the law should be punished. After all, buying anabolic steroids for sale online, or in the local gym, is illegal and so is drinking whilst intoxicated. Obtaining human growth hormone (HGH) without a prescription is also against the law and the NFL and NFLPA agree tougher sanctions on lawbreakers.
The major sticking point here is how different players move through the substance abuse programs that the NFL has established, a three-tiered system that not only determines punishment, but also requires different levels of drug testing throughout the season (as well as throughout the off-season).
However, because of the recent breaking stories involving so many superstars in the sport, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Wes Welker testing positive for amphetamines and losing his appeal
- Josh Gordon testing positive for marijuana (for the third time) and receiving a one-year ban
- Le’Veon Bell and LaGarette Blount getting caught with marijuana possession as well as a DUI
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
NFL teams wanted to get their superstar players back on the field (and understandably so), but the NFL was only going to lessen the bans and change the punishments for first-time offenders as well as those already in the substance abuse programs if the NFLPA was going to enhance and increase the scope of drug testing and PED testing dramatically.
The NFL PA wasn’t going to budge until…
Why was there so much emphasis to make the change now?
The major reason behind things moving so quickly on a disagreement that had been festering for some time now between the NFL and the NFLPA is because of the ugly press the league and the Players Association was getting over incidents that had next to nothing to do with PED’s, drug use, or anything else that was holding up the negotiations.
No, the off the field incidents, including Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson (as well as the fumbling of the two-game Ray Rice punishment compared to the year-long ban that Josh Gordon received) became the real driver behind getting things done, as both organizations understood that they were going to walk away with egg on their face if they didn’t hammer out a deal.
What changes have actually been made to the policy?
Major changes that have been made to this new PED and drug testing policy include:
- Full HGH testing that will be implemented THIS season, with all players in the league being tested
- Full arbitration rights by a third-party arbitrator for all cases of positive HGH and PED tests that would result in suspensions or banning
- A streamlined appeals process for any positive PED or drug abuse test
- A locked in and mandatory suspension of six games (without pay) for a first time violation of the new PED policy
- A locked in and mandatory suspension of 10 games (without pay) for a subsequent violation of the PED policy
- A locked in and mandatory suspension of two years (without pay) for a third violation of the PED policy
- A locked in and mandatory suspension of two games (without pay) for the use of a masking agent or an attempt to hide PED or drug abuse
- New four-game suspensions for the use of anabolic steroids, amphetamines and other stimulants, human growth hormone, and a handful of other performance-enhancing drugs
What kind of impact have these changes already had on the league?
Though both parties have already signed on the dotted line and agreed to these new changes, and a number of superstar players have had their bans completely lifted or, in the case of Josh Gordon, reduced, a number of the signed off changes have yet to be implemented.
However, the NFL and the NFLPA are working behind the scenes to come up with the systems and processes necessary to get things rolling just as quickly as possible, while at the same time juggling all of the other off the field issues that both have had heaped upon their plate.
Obviously, the NFL is becoming a different league entirely, with a serious focus on health and safety of the players and personnel in it. These new PED and drug testing policies will only help to create a better league, a favorite league, and a safer league for everyone involved.