Le'Veon Bell Suspension Begs Question: What's Happening in Pittsburgh?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 22, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) carries the ball during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Associated Press

On April 20—that date will resonate with some—Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell tweeted something prescient. Actually, it wasn't prescient. It was basically the same as stamping "idiot" on his forehead.

Tweeted Bell: "Of course I get a 'random' drug test on 4/20...good luck with that sample."

You know how the TSA says don't joke about bombs at a security checkpoint because that joke will be taken seriously? No player with a history of drug suspensions should joke about drug testing. The league watches these things closely. I can tell you for certain that after Bell tweeted that, the NFL wasn't pleased, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. These league sources felt Bell wasn't taking his past problems seriously.

It was ESPN that first reported on Friday that Bell faces a four-game suspension, pending appeal, for missing a drug test. It's important to note the NFL considers a missed test the same as a positive test. There's a reason for that. Because almost all of the time, damn near 100 percent, players who miss tests only miss them because they know they're going to test positive. Duh.

It's also important to note that in order to be suspended for missing a test, you must have previously missed multiple tests, not just one.

Le'Veon Bell was second in the NFL in rushing in 2014.
Le'Veon Bell was second in the NFL in rushing in 2014.Don Wright/Associated Press/Associated Press
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Maybe Bell allegedly missed the test because his flight was delayed. Or maybe he had a tummy ache. Or maybe his system was so full of marijuana he would have been followed into the drug test by a pack of drug-sniffing dogs. Or maybe he has a legitimate excuse. That could also be possible.

It is fair, however, to not give Bell the benefit of the doubt. It is also fair to ask this question: What in the hell is going on in Pittsburgh with its stars and drug tests?

"If what's happening in Pittsburgh was happening in New England, there would be multiple league investigations," said one NFC East team executive, who asked not to be identified. "But because the Steelers are so liked by the media and league, they get a pass."

I can tell you that is not a lone sentiment across the NFL. It's wrong, but it's not a singular belief.

It's wrong because the Steelers haven't gotten a pass from the league. They have, however, gotten an image pass. They aren't generally seen as a drug team, but clearly, something is seriously wrong there.

This would be Bell's second suspension. Last season he was suspended three games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy following a marijuana possession and DUI arrest. Bell appealed and got the suspension reduced to two games.

Bell has always been described to me as someone who lived on the edge. He pushes the boundaries off the field, and we're starting to see that.

Yet Bell isn't the only Steelers star to face drug issues. Martavis Bryant, one of the brightest young players in football, is out for the year due to multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.

Gary Landers/Associated Press

So you have Bell, the best running back in football, possibly gone for four games, and Bryant, who has emerged as maybe a top-10 receiver, gone for the season. So, yes, it's fair to ask what's happening in Pittsburgh.

Drug suspensions happen, but it's incredibly rare for two stars from the same team to face suspensions within the same year (and yes, Bryant is a star). This is like the Patriots facing the simultaneous loss of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman because of drug issues.

The Steelers have long been one of the best organizations to both cover and watch. The team is run by incredibly smart people, both in the front office, on the coaching staff and in the public relations department. They are often honest and forthright. The Steelers are one of only a handful of organizations that has never lied to me or even exaggerated anything. The team is the gold standard in sports.

Still, this is troubling as hell. Something has gone wrong inside that locker room. Maybe that's not a fair statement. It's two guys on a team of many, after all. But it's two offensive stars, in trouble multiple times, who didn't seem to either get, or care, about the message they were receiving from the Steelers coaches, players and front office trying to change their behavior.

"We are very disappointed that Martavis Bryant has put himself in this current situation of being suspended by the league," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement last season. "He is at a crossroads of his professional life, and he needs to understand significant changes need to occur in his personal life if he wants to regain his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler. We are hopeful that Martavis will take the necessary steps to develop the discipline in his personal life to become a successful player and a good teammate."

Why didn't Bell get this message? Why didn't Bell say: I don't want that to be me?

There's a disconnect, and that had better get fixed. Bell is in the testing program, meaning he is subject to dozens of random tests a year. If he does anything, he will get caught.

This is a key time for Bell, and not just for him. It's an important time for a proud franchise. A great, historic franchise. A franchise that may have more problems than we know.