League’s drug policies leave some wondering, ‘Why not?’

Ryan Woerner
Sports Editor

For quite some time now, athletes have been thrust into the spotlight for breaking the law. Notably O.J. Simpson, Plaxico Burress and the better part of the Cincinnati Bengals have all run into legal troubles ranging from murder to unlawful carrying of a firearm. Others, such as Dante Stallworth, get drunk and run people over with their cars or, like Ben Rothlisberger, (allegedly) sexually assault/rape two college-aged females.
The latest crop of law-breakers in the wide world of sports have been accused of breaking that one law where you’re not allowed to mercilessly punch your fiancée in the face or beat your children. Many of these crimes will earn the players anything ranging from a suspension to a slap on the wrist, or in rare cases, a book deal. However, the real criminals in today’s society are those who have sexually assaulted and murdered our innocent minds by smoking weed or taking Adderall. For them, the punishments don’t exactly fit the crime.

Josh Gordon’s failed drug test came down partially to luck.
Josh Gordon’s failed drug test came down partially to luck.

Drug testing is a practice that is not at all uncommon in the professional world. When I applied to Target four years ago, I had to take a urine test to get the job selling electronics, something I’m fairly confident I could do high. The process was simple: I walked across the street to a Quest Diagnostics building, sat in the lobby for roughly 14 hours, urinated in a cup and left. Had I failed the test (I didn’t), I wouldn’t have been given the job. Simple and straightforward. The NFL doesn’t handle things quite the same, however.
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon would probably fit in well with most of my friends, in that he seems to have an affinity for weed. However, unlike my friends, Josh Gordon also has an affinity for getting caught smoking weed.
When Gordon peed into a cup earlier this year, that urine was divided into an “A” cup and a “B” cup completely arbitrarily. The drug testing policy then goes like this: they test cup A, if it shows a result over the allowed 15 nanograms per milliliter, then cup B is also tested. If anything at all shows up in cup B, it is considered a positive test, and the player faces consequences.
In Gordon’s situation, his cup A weighed in at 16 ng/mL, exactly one nanogram above the limit. His cup B tested at 13.6, and he was therefore suspended. Had the “A” cup been labeled “B” instead, Gordon would have passed the test. Despite this 50-50 shot at suspension that comes completely down to luck, despite the fact that Gordon passed over 70 drug tests administered by the NFL and despite that the World Anti-Doping Agency sets its threshold at 160 ng/mL, ten times that of the NFL, Gordon was suspended for the entire 2014 season (the suspension has since been reduced to 10 games).

Brewers RF Ryan Braun avoided a suspension due to a loophole.
Brewers RF Ryan Braun avoided a suspension due to a loophole.

The NFL isn’t the only major North American sports league to have its issues with drug testing policy. By now, everyone knows the issues that occurred with Ryan Braun’s urine back in 2011. In short, Braun urinated into a cup, but the man who administered the test couldn’t get to FedEx in time to mail it away until the following day. By then, however, the urine sample is no longer considered valid so, despite showing absurdly high levels of testosterone in his urine, Braun was never disciplined.
Chris Davis, first basemen for the Baltimore Orioles was suspended for the final 25 games of the regular season because he tested positive for Adderall—a drug that Davis formerly had an exemption to use. Because of the ludicrous amount of hoops players with ADHD are expected to gracefully leap through to obtain clearance to use their prescription medication, Davis was never granted a renewal, and was therefore suspended. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz and Denver Bronco’s wide receiver Wes Welker were suspended in similar fashion over the past few years.
Luckily, there seems to be hope on the horizon. The NFL rewrote the league’s drug abuse policy to err more on the side of leniency when it came to drug use, a sign that the league may be catching up with the times. I’m not saying Josh Gordon ought to be able to smoke all the weed he wants, but a yearlong suspension seem extreme for someone who spends his off days watching “Futurama” and eating Doritos rather than, say, running people over with his car.