NGSC Sports

NFL’s Drug Testing Hypocrisy Revisited

Let’s talk about the NFL’s drug testing hypocrisy again shall we? I have long had strong thoughts about the issue of the NFL and it’s drug policies, specifically drug testing and health care. A lot has transpired since I first wrote this piece back in January of 2013. I weighed back in on the topic when the issue of smoking weed and the NFL’s drug policies were hot a few months ago with this piece.

This issue has resurfaced as several former NFL players including Richard Dent filed a class action lawsuit on May 20, 2014 alleging that the NFL intentionally mislead it’s players on the issue of painkillers and deliberately created a drug abuse culture. A link to the lawsuit follows:

225292748 NFL Painkiller Suit by Sharona Fab

The lawsuit cites many things in particularl the ever increasing size and girth of the average NFL player, the  increase in the number of games, longer seasons, and shorter recovery between games. Many players play games every week but are limited by injuries during practice week. Many players continue to play even knowing they are hurt. Look no further than the concussion lawsuit for more evidence.

The reality in sports is that you play hurt or lose your job and your career. For many, if not most, sports is all they know and they are woefully unprepared for life without it. Management knows this while coaches count on it. You are only one loss away from losing your job at any given time. There are few guarantees in football where the only certainty you receive is your guaranteed money. The desire to do whatever is takes is an overwhelmingly motivating force.

Take for example one Alex Smith, former quarterback of the San Francisco Forty Niners who 2 years ago was having an excellent season and leading his team to the playoffs. Unfortunately, he missed one game due to concussion and lost his job to young Colin Kaepernick and never reclaimed it. He would later be shipped to Kansas City where he led them to the playoffs last year.

The NFL has team doctors which is all you need to know about their allegiance. Many are well respected and likely do what they can to operate within the bounds of the professional realities in which they operate. Others are quite the opposite and come with very lengthy baggage.

This of course raises huge conflict of interest questions concerning the arrangement as Marcellus Wiley pointed out in an interview on Mike and Mike this morning. There are long standing conflict of interest issues in any event between medical professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. Self interest and profit cause even the best of us to want to bend the rules.

The lawsuit alleges that the NFL through it’s team doctors routinely prescribed and/or handed out Toradol and NSAIDS (non steroidal anti-inflammation drug), while encouraging the use of alcohol which is a deadly combination. Further, the lawsuit alleges it was done without fully informing players of the risks and consequences involved in consuming this potentially lethal drug mixture.

It is the issue of informed consent where players have a very legitimate complaint in the lawsuit though there are certainly additional allegations that will be troubling legally for the league. You can find a good discussion of the background and evolution of informed consent here but at it’s center is the belief that the body is the individual’s sanctuary and that medical treatment including prescription drug administration should only be done after fully informing that person of all the risks versus the the benefits of a particular course of action.

While doctors may be hired by the teams, their Hippocratic Oath is to the patient. You see similar arrangements all the time in the legal profession where attorneys are hired to represent the insured of an insurance company, an employee of a business organization, or similar situations. While their paycheck is written by another their legal and ethical responsibilities belong to the client.

The extent to which the players were informed will certainly be under scrutiny but likewise will the questions the players asked and whether they were complicit to a certain extent. That doesn’t absolve the league through it’s agents the physicians from it’s obligation to inform them of the long term consequences along with the potentially lethal combination when ingested together along with alcohol.

All which leads me to the hypocrisy here. The NFL has no inhibitions where prescription medications are concerned so long as they are of the variety that benefits them financially and through which they get a share. Let the players seek means to alleviate pain, deal with depression, and deal with the rigors of playing professional sports and the various drug policies come into play.

Far be it for a player to smoke a joint because that might be bad! On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine and reasonable for the league and it’s various components to let players ingest, inject and mix various combinations of inflammatories and painkillers that have far more severe risks and longstanding repercussions than marijuana.

Lest you forget, deaths from prescription drug overdose has been steadily on the rise since 1990 and the latest numbers indicate that every day at least 100 people die of a drug overdose in the United States alone. Those numbers come courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and are staggering. Prescription drug abuse is now considered more deadly than heroine and cocaine combined.

Additionally, there are approximately 88,000 related deaths in the United States each year that are attributable to excessive alcohol consumption. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. While prescription drug abuse and alcohol related deaths continue to climb, there are still no confirmed deaths from marijuana abuse.

Further, there is overwhelming evidence of the addictive and dependency nature of both alcohol and prescription drug use especially painkillers. There is conflicting research on whether marijuana is addictive and no credible research exists to support the long asserted contention that it is a gateway drug. Efforts are underway across the nation to legalize marijuana use in various forms.

NSAIDS were once considered safe alternatives to steroids but we are now discovering they come with their own particular set of issues.  Now there are other performance enhancing alternatives to the traditional steroids like EPA, HGH, and the far more problematic, at least for doping agencies, things like bromantan (named by your local frat boy no doubt) which serve not just as performance enhancing but as a masking agent.

It just never ends and I suspect self interest and conflicting interests serve a part there.

Which brings me full circle to where I started. How are any of the things considered performance enhancing any worse than what Jason Taylor and many other players have revealed they went through just to remain on the field? While players fight for healthcare and benefits, the league continues to distribute it’s own form of “performance enhancing” mechanisms through the use of painkillers, NSAIDS, alcohol and the threat of losing one’s job. There are very few guarantees in the National Football League. You can’t make the club from the tub after all.

After all, there is nothing more “performance enhancing” with the incentive to do what it takes than the threat you might lose the most viable source of income and earning capacity you possess.

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