The NFL’s Drug Policies: What You Need to Know

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Halfway into the second week of National Football League’s (NFL) 2014 season, there’s plenty of drama both on and off the field. From domestic violence to illegal performance enhancing drugs, the NFL and its players are in the middle of a media nightmare – one that centers squarely on the ratification of an updated and comprehensive drug policy.

Despite the passage of a 2011 collective bargaining agreement, progress on the League’s new drug policy and the subsequent discipline of players has stalled.

Trouble Off the Field

As if the stalled drug policy drama wasn’t enough, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker and Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice are creating even more unwanted attention for the NFL. Welker was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season after violating the league policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Welker reportedly tested positive for ecstasy and amphetamines, which he admitted to taking while attending the Kentucky Derby. He can’t return to the team anytime before October 6.

Brought on by a surveillance video from an Atlantic City hotel elevator last February, Rice is seen punching his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in the face.

Rice, on the other hand, is facing serious charges in multiple courts – including the court of public opinion. Brought on by a surveillance video from an Atlantic City hotel elevator last February, Rice is seen punching his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in the face. He hits Palmer so hard that she is knocked out cold for almost five minutes. The Ravens tried to get out in front of the media nightmare, releasing Rice from the team permanently.

The Domestic Violence Fallout

The Ray Rice incident has elicited outrage from nearly everyone – fans, media, politicians, active players, and former NFL stars have taken to media outlets around the world. The talk has brought down thunder and criticism of failed NFL policies, a lax legal system for NFL stars, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and the Baltimore Ravens team as a whole.

In July, the NFL had suspended Rice for two games, a decision that was widely criticized. Just one month later, Goodell, in a letter to league owners, announced a new domestic violence policy. Goodell went on to admit that he “got Rice’s punishment wrong” and detailed the NFL’s new domestic violence policy: 6 games for 1st offense, with a lifetime ban afterward.

Drug Policy by Type

The NFL is feeling the weight of public pressure to enact new – and tougher – drug policies. As they stand now, the illegal substance policies of the league are murky and full of loopholes. Areas of specific concern are:

  • Steroids, also known as “performance-enhancing drugs.” And though HGH is on the NFL’s list of banned performance-enhancing substances, players are not tested for it.
  • Marijuana, especially for players living in states that have legalized the drug. This certainly rings true for players like Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling, who were both recently arrested for the substance.
  • Adderall, which is a methamphetamine-based drug widely popular among athletes. The NFL does allow for exemptions with this drug, but the specifics aren’t clear.
  • Alcohol and DUI charges are huge issues for the NFL. The main point of contention is that the NFL insists on disciplining players arrested for DUI offenses before “due legal process.” That means the NFL can suspend players or make teams deactivate them for a game immediately after an arrest – before the legal system plays out. The player’s union refuses to agree to those terms.

Confusion Abounds

NFL players say they’re already confused about the substance abuse policies set forth by the league. For instance, a player testing for illegal substances falls under two separate and distinct policies. The paperwork is 60 pages long.

First, the paperwork for the National Football League Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances handles everything that normally falls under “performance enhancing” drugs. It’s 28 pages long, with such subheadings as “Procedures Regarding Testosterone” and “Calculation of Bonus Forfeiture.”

Everything else falls under paperwork that’s entitled National Football League Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. This policy is 32 pages long and covers anything recreational or non-approved medicinally. This document also covers alcohol and maintains procedures for players who have abused the substance in the past. It provides advice for treatment and counseling, and mandates sobriety for players.

Both policies outline the type and frequency of tests that players are supposed to expect during their employment in the NFL. Some of those policies include:

  • For anabolic steroids and related substances: Upon employment—entering the league (predraft) or signing with a new team—you can be tested. During the offseason, you can be randomly tested up to six times. This includes free agents who don’t have a team. To “opt out” of this testing, you have to be formally retired. During the preseason/ season/ postseason, 10 players can be randomly tested each week.
  • For the substances of abuse agreement, each player will be tested during the preseason. Any other testings happen upon agreement in the player’s contract—which may be different for different players.
  • Once a player tests positively for any of the above substances, they can be terminated—effective immediately. That player needs to basically be ready to pee in any cup, anytime, anywhere as mandated by the NFL’s medical officers.

The Inevitable Upcoming Vote

That means players like Wes Welker could see reduced (or even revoked) suspensions retroactively based on the new terms of the policy.

Modifications to the league’s existing drug policies will likely result in increased penalties for players who are convicted of driving under the influence. The good news is that there is a strong likelihood the NFL will adopt some form of the new policy that has been presented. That means players like Wes Welker could see reduced (or even revoked) suspensions retroactively based on the new terms of the policy. The proposed changes would also give the players a system of neutral arbitration to resolve appeals of drug-related suspensions, instead of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him deciding the appeals.

Related: 8 Pro-Athletes with Outrageous Gambling Addictions

Does your insurance cover addiction treatment?

Use our free and confidential online insurance checker to see if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Center facility.

See if you’re covered