The NFL’s Drug Policy: Is it Time to Adapt?

The NFL’s drug policies are under more scrutiny than ever, and not for the usual reasons. Players are starting to point out some of the hypocrisy inherent in the system, and they’re looking for better alternatives. For once, it’s necessary to look at the drug testing system and wonder if it’s really time for it to change. For once, making exceptions might not just be a good thing for the players, but a good change in the philosophy of how the NFL deals with its players and deals with pain.

The Policy As it Stands

The NFL’s drug policy isn’t quite as simple as you might think. There are actually two separate policies at play – one covering performance enhancing drugs, and another covering so-called recreational drugs. The former deals with steroids of all stripes, while the other deals with everything from illegal substances to misused prescription pills. There’s certainly some wiggle room in the latter, and misuse of prescription medicine seems to be tied to the discretion of the league. Today’s policy includes testing for substances like marijuana, even if it is used for medicinal purposes.

The Legacy of Steroids

If there’s a truth behind the NFL’s drug testing, it’s got to be the unspoken fear of a steroid scandal. The legacy of steroid abuse is, of course, something with which the league will probably always struggle. As late as this year, it’s endured yet another embarrassing series of claims[/url], and the odds of it happening again are fairly high. The NFL’s paranoia over performance enhancing drugs is, perhaps, understandable – the players are looking for any edge they can take, and it’s clear that some will take shortcuts. Unfortunately, though, this policy has seeped into every part of the league’s stance on drugs, and performance enhancers are far from the only things that are tested for. As long as the NFL lives in fear, there’s not going to be a change.

Pain Management Realities

The sad fact is, though, that the NFL has brought many of its problems on itself. In its quest to eliminating anything that can embarrass the league, the NFL has instead become a pusher of legal pain medication. You only have to talk to a seasoned professional for a few minutes to find out that team doctors hand out painkillers like candy, seeking to keep star players on their feet long enough to win just one more game. This has created a crippling addiction in some players, but in a way that the league finds acceptable.

What’s perhaps worse is that NFL players actually want alternatives. Players have been overwhelming in their support to amend the drug policy to exclude medical marijuana from tested sources, but the league seems resolute in keeping things the way they are. In practice, this puts the league in the strange position of favoring one legal substance over the other, even despite evidence that their policy causes harm. Even more, it puts the league in the position of being unable to adapt to the times, making decisions that are based on archaic reasoning instead of new scientific evidence.

What it Means to Be a Role Model

Perhaps it all comes down to the NFL’s insistence that every player is a role model. While many of the players have engaged in off-field antics that make them less than ideal for the role, it’s still a narrative that the league pushes. As long as marijuana is seen as an illicit substance, it’s likely that the league will take a stand and push for its exclusion in testing. Likewise, as long as prescription abuse is ignored, it’s likely that the league will continue its questionable policies towards painkillers. While players can absolutely turn towards e cig juice as an enjoyable tobacco harm reduction substitute, it’s unlikely that they’ll find such an outlet for their issues regarding pain.

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