Athletes and Addiction

When athletes are caught violating a sport’s drug policy, we usually comment on the impact it has on their career and the sport overall. Rarely do we talk about the substance use itself. It’s almost as if drug use to enhance performance is put in a different category than other types of drug abuse.

The NFL just announced that three members of the Denver Broncos have been suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Players D.J. Williams and Ryan McBean have been suspended six games and tight end Virgil Green has been suspended four games for alleged violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

It’s reported that Williams and McBean plan to file federal lawsuits claiming that their samples were tampered with. Williams and McBean tested positive for performance enhancing substances on the league’s banned list, according to the Denver Post.

Following the announcement by the NFL, the Broncos issued the following statement: “We are aware of this matter, but due to the confidentiality of the program, we are unable to provide additional comment on the situation.”

Williams released a statement of his own, claiming, “the NFL has announced a suspension based on a specimen that [it] acknowledges did not contain steroids or any illegal substance. Instead, the NFL contends that I provided a non-human specimen. I have never failed a test of any kind – for steroids or illegal substances – during my eight-year pro career. …”

Green, meanwhile, told ESPN, “I was suspended for four games for taking ADHD medication prior to obtaining an exemption from the League. I have now obtained the proper exemption to take the medication that has been prescribed to me to treat my condition. I apologize to my teammates, coaches and fans for my mistake and will make sure to never let anything like this happen again.”

Most news coverage then goes on to give professional stats for the players or look at potential problems with the league’s “specimen collection” methods. We rarely hear concern for the long-term health of the players involved or a push for rehab for players who are proven to have been taking illegal or banned substances.

We know the pressure on these players is immense and millions of dollars are at stake. Still, when someone is willing to continue to ingest a substance even though doing so will jeopardize their career and their health, that’s a warning sign of addiction. When it happens to A-level athletes, though, we write it off as part of the game in this new age. They may not be scoring heroin in a back alley, but substance abuse is substance abuse, even if the addict has his or her own trading card and uses in fancy locker rooms with the help of professional trainers.

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