As the NFL gears up for its showcase event, an age-old issue has once again reared its head due to recent developments both inside and outside the NFL.
Does the National Football League have a performance-enhancing drugs problem?
As baseball star Alex Rodriguez battles a scathing report (via SI.com) that alleges he used a multitude of banned substances for years and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis refutes another (via Yahoo Sports) that claims he used a spray containing a banned substance, fans and the media alike are once again asking the question.
Does the National Football League have a PED problem?
The answer, much like the issue itself, isn't that simple.
For starters, it's not so much "steroids" that are the issue anymore. Substances such as synthetic testosterone, while still being used, have dropped in popularity among players that will do anything to gain a competitive edge.
The reason is really quite simple. Those drugs can be tested for, and it's infinitely easier to get caught using them.
However, that hasn't stopped players from pumping all sorts of chemicals into their bloodstreams. A recent report by Judy Battista of The New York Times points out that during the 2012 calendar year, 21 suspensions were announced because of failed tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Those suspensions included those for the use of stimulants such as Adderall, a drug used to treat A,D.H.D.. Adderall provides a strong "kick" of energy when taken by people who do not have A.D.H.D., and as Dr. Leah Lagos told Battista, there are a number of reasons why players could choose to abuse the drug:
Athletes are often taking it to fight fatigue and exhaustion. It’s almost like taking 100 cups of coffee. They can take it during training camp when their bodies are especially fatigued, and the other is right before a game, to boost them. Those are two patterns that are being reported most frequently. But there is the party scene, too, and that’s happening on a larger level.
Adderall use was linked to the suspension of several defensive backs this season, including Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns, Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots and Brandon Browner of the Seattle Seahawks.
Adderall can (obviously) be tested for, and the drug is a problem in its own right.
However, Battista claims that since the NFL is forbidden under the terms of the drug-testing agreement with the players union from announcing what substance players have tested positive for, that some pros may use Adderall use as a "fall drug" rather than face the stigma of being caught using anabolic steroids.
Then there are the banned substances that the NFL currently has no testing protocol for.
There's IGF-1, the hormone that is (allegedly) at the heart of the brouhaha surrounding Lewis. IGF-1 is on the league's list of banned substances, but the only way to find it in a player's system is with blood testing.
The same goes for HGH.
The use of human growth hormone, how rampant that use is in the NFL, and how to stop it is an issue that has faced the league for years.
In August of 2011, Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported on the agreement between the players and NFL to implement HGH testing. At the time "several players estimated HGH use in the NFL at anywhere from '10-20 percent,'" and the agreement was hailed as a landmark step in eradicating PEDs from the NFL.
And yet here we sit almost 18 months later. The actual implementation of those testing protocols is no closer today than it was then, as Freeman wrote Wednesday in an article revisiting the subject in the wake of the Ray Lewis allegations:
Players interviewed by CBSSports.com since the Lewis story broke make two points.
There's no question that players have shifted from more steroid type products to human growth hormone because the NFL isn't testing for HGH. This shift has been gradual but is steadily increasing. One longtime veteran estimated HGH use in the NFL at 10 percent to 20 percent three or four years ago to double that now.
The NFL and union, after initially agreeing to HGH testing, are now battling with exactly how to proceed as Congress threatens to take action to hasten an HGH testing agreement.
Let's be honest. So long as players think they can get away with it, some are going to be more than willing to bend or break the rules to get that edge. That runs the gamut from aging stars trying to hang on, to roster-bubble types trying to stay in the NFL.
They don't care about the rules or the long-term health effects, at least not as much as they do about playing football for large sums of money.
That places the impetus on the NFL to get testing in place that will actually catch those who violate the PED policy.
Unfortunately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has so destroyed his own credibility with the "Bountygate" witch hunt that rank-and-file players are prepared to dig in against him at any turn over just about anything. Right and wrong has seemingly become less important than not being perceived as "pro-Goodell."
In the meantime, the use of HGH, Adderall, deer-antler spray and any number of other substances, elixirs and drugs is only going increase as players seek that "edge" over their competition.
Does the National Football League have a PED problem?
You bet. It's just not necessarily the kind of problem you think, and right now the league has no idea of how to fix it.