NFL’s substance-abuse policy fails at-risk players


When an NFL player fails a drug test and is suspended by the NFL, fans across social media chastise the player for being unable to give up marijuana when using it could bring an end t his career.

While something could certainly be said about being unable to give up a substance when using it can lead to you losing your job, it also serves as a sign that the athlete needs help. But the NFL’s substance-abuse system isn’t designed to help players in need, it seems designed to fail them.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is serving a year-long penalty suspension after consuming  alcohol in February 2015, which violated the terms of his previous suspension for failing a drug test.

Gordon was eligible for re-admission into the NFL this offseason, but reportedly failed another drug test in March. Gordon’s failed test came when his “A” and “B” urine sample tested below the NFL’s 35 nanogram threshold, but both samples were diluted resulting in a failed test, according to Fox Sports.

This is the first problem with the NFL’s testing program, the threshold they use to count as a failed test. Looking across sports, there are a variety of higher thresholds. Major League Baseball holds a 50-nanogram threshold and the World Anti-Doping Agency, which tests for the Olympics, holds a 150 nanogram threshold, according to USA Today.

The NFL’s standards were even worse two years ago, when the threshold was set at 15 nanograms, according to Fox Sports.

Gordon isn’t the only player impacted by the NFL’s policy either.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon is still under an indefinite suspension and hasn’t played since 2013. Young men who had substance-abuse issues were in need of help and instead the NFL turned them away.

When the NFL suspends a player, they don’t just take him off the field and suspend his pay, that isn’t enough for them. The player is banned from team facilities and can’t be in contact with the team, according to CBS Sports.

When you spend most of your days with a team for half the year, they essentially become your family.

Teammates are your brothers who are there to support you both on the field and off. For young players in need, a strong locker room can also provide structure and guidance.

If you were to construct a system that identified young men with substance-abuse issues all while dealing with the pressure and emotion of being a professional athlete, the last thing you would think of doing is removing their support system.

Removing them from their family of teammates, where they can be around older players who have experienced similar things and can be a mentor to them, is setting these players up to fail.

Football is a violent game and players are likely dealing with physical pain on a daily basis.

NFL doctors can hand them bags of painkillers to numb the pain even at a time when there is growing misuse of pain medications at a rate more than four times higher than the general population, according to ESPN.

Yet the NFL sees the use of marijuana as a significant violation of league rules and even when it’s evident athletes have a substance-abuse problem, the NFL throws them aside indefinitely.

It’s time for the NFL to make a serious change to its entire substance-abuse system and focus on the health of these young men.