Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended this week for the remaining four games of the NFL season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Ngata and his representation came out and said that he failed his testing due to Adderall, a drug used to treat severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
If you have kept up with the NFL news for the last few years, you've undoubtedly heard the drug Adderall pop up in PED suspensions with more frequency. Seattle Seahawks players Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner were some of the more high profile cases, but it is becoming more and more impossible to ignore now that it has hit the Ravens.
The issue with the NFL's drug policy is the lack of transparency. When a player is suspended for PEDs, the NFL does not release what drug the player has been suspended for. While it was assumed years ago that it was likely steroids, the increase in prescription drug abuse has muddied the waters greatly for those looking to speculate. With the lack of transparency, players, in the past, can come out and say whatever they want without the NFL's comment which has led to players claiming Adderall as the trigger for the suspension. Now, the NFL can only refute a player's claim if the player is lying.
Sponsorships and a player's reputation during contract negotiations being what they are, players and their representatives understand that there is not the same stigma attached to prescription abuse like Adderall as there is to anabolic steroids. With the NFL's lack of comment on the matter, even with the opportunity to deny a player's claim, you can easily see why a player that has tens of millions of dollars on the line will gladly cop to using something seen in school age children than with something typically associated with cheaters at a professional level.
That is not to say that Adderall isn't without it's merits as a performance enhancing drug, especially with aging players. The Seattle Times did a story on Adderall and it's affects back in 2012 and interviewed Dr Gary Wadler, a past chairman of the Word Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List Committee.
It masks fatigue, masks pain, increases arousal — like being in The Zone. It increases alertness, aggressiveness, attention and concentration. It improves reaction time, especially when fatigued. Some think it enhances hand-eye coordination. Some believe it increases the mental aspects of performance.
It is one of the quintessential performance-enhancing drugs. There's no question it's a performance-enhancing drug.
You can easily see how an aging athlete would be attracted to Adderall. While nothing can turn back the hands of the clock, Adderall is the closest thing that professional athletes have to return to the play of their early 20s mentally and even physically.
Haloti Ngata is no spring chicken, getting ready to turn 31 in January, at one of the most brutal positions on the gridiron. Injuries have been a problem for the five-time All-Pro, and he is likely currently playing the final year on his contract that would see him make $16 million in 2015, giving him all the incentive he would need to gain an edge. It is no secret that the Ravens were going to enter this offseason either cutting Ngata and his major salary increase or entering into contract negotiations in order to lower his cap number to be more reasonable. A better 2014 season like he has been having would be all the Ravens defensive tackle would need to enhance his leverage with the Ravens or with any of the other 31 teams in the NFL looking for a difference maker on the defensive line.
That leads us right back to where the issue really lies and that is in the lack of transparency with the NFL's drug suspensions. While the Ravens are more likely to know whether Haloti Ngata really used Adderall or if he had used something else, there are never any assurances to that. The NFL certainly keeps those records to themselves in order to protect the privacy of the patient and to allow them to seek professional help, but it also does a major disservice by allowing a player to publicly claim a drug that they didn't take in order to save face with the fans, with sponsors and with their own team. When a player publicly comes out as saying that they took a drug like Adderall, that same player will have some major difficulty trying to receive the help that they truly need as they are looking to protect their own interests. While one can argue that a player like Ngata keeping some edge publicly and maybe gaining an extra million dollars is the most helpful thing for a player likely not addicted to anything, the increase of former NFL players having drug related issues when they retire seems to point to a need for an overhaul in the NFL's drug policy.
At the end of the day, it is clear that the NFL's drug policy is not stringent enough to dissuade players from trying to game it. While not every player has been able to, there is no doubt that scores of players have and still are avoiding positive testing. The NFL needs to look at a different way to get players to not dope themselves and maybe a little public shaming initially will be enough for a player to choose to ride off into the sunset instead of looking for a pill bottle. If that fails a player, then mandatory treatment sure will help a solid percentage that still remain.
It is a tough issue with no clear end in sight, but if the NFL continues to allow players privacy on the matter, it will continue to have players take little to no responsibility as the drug problem grows even more rampant.