You know how long players get suspended for a positive test, but you may not have heard the whole story behind the NFL’s drug testing program.
The NFL’s marijuana policy has been all over the news lately, from criticism of the league’s stance by the likes of Eugene Monroe, Derrick Morgan and Jake Plummer to SI Films’ upcoming in-depth look at Ricky Williams’s relationship with the drug and the sport. But how much do you really know about the sport's actual testing, intervention and discipline procedures? We dug into the details to bring you five things you might not know about the current rules.
1. The league’s substance abuse policy predates its PED protocol. Commissioner Pete Rozelle first introduced a loose recreational drug code, focused on education, in 1971; the preseason testing structure still used today came into being as part of the ’82 CBA—and suspensions didn’t begin until ’89. Separate language for steroids didn’t appear until ’83.
2. Players outside the “intervention program”—those who’ve never had a violation—are tested just once a year. Anyone under contract is tested once between April 20 (yup: 4/20) and Aug. 9. The player is given at most a three-hour warning before being visited by a collector, who must directly witness the player providing the urine sample.
3. For every player suspended under the policy, five to 10 others anonymously enter and exit the intervention program. Not even teams are made aware of a player’s positive test until he is suspended, which only occurs after multiple violations. Team physicians, however, have that information in order to prevent cross-medication issues.
4. Marijuana is handled differently from all other substances. The discipline procedures for marijuana abusers are less strict than violations for all other drugs. Clause 1.5.2(c) states that an additional offense is allowed before suspensions are leveled in cases involving marijuana. And up until that point, fines for positive tests are less steep.
5. Hundreds of people are involved in the program. There are generally two or three clinicians per NFL team who administer treatment plans for each player in the program. Then there’s the legion of agents who help conduct 15,000-plus tests each year. Combined with the steroid program, the NFL spends about $13 million per year on its drug programs.