Adderall And The NFL: Seattle Seahawks At The Forefront Of PED Debate

Richard Sherman

Much has been made in recent months about the number of suspensions of Seattle Seahawks players for performance enhancing drug use. The Seahawks have had five players since 2011 get popped for taking banned substances, not including All-Pro corner Richard Sherman who got his suspension dropped on a technicality after appealing. Brandon Browner, Sherman’s partner in crime in the secondary, got his own 4-game ban and defensive end Bruce Irvin is the latest casualty. Irvin will sit out the first 4 games of next season for his positive test.

What’s interesting about these suspensions is that they don’t concern what I would typically consider a “performance enhancing” substance. For me, when I hear that term, the word that immediately comes to mind is “steroid.” However, in most of the cases with the Seahawks players, they were suspended for taking Adderall, prescription medication normally used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh ruffled feathers recently when he came out critical of the Seahawks suspensions.

“”It has no place in an athlete’s body. Play by the rules,” Harbaugh said. ”You always want to be above reproach, especially when you’re good, because you don’t want people to come back and say, ‘They’re winning because they’re cheating.’”

Are players using Adderall to gain a mental edge while studying, or are they actually taking it before games so they are more locked in on the field? The debate is an interesting one, and I’m not sure it’s gotten enough attention. Washington Redskins wide out Pierre Garcon seems to think that Adderall can go a long way in giving players a competitive edge.

“I guess some guys abuse it,” Garcon said. “There are ways, as any drug can be abused from pain relievers to Adderall to whatever else they need to help them perform on Sunday or perform better on Sundays. Some guys do need it to stay up in meetings and to learn the plays, to study plays, but it can be abused on the field.”

Really, Pierre? On the field? Are NFL players really popping Adderall in the locker room before games before they take the field? Is a hyper-focused Richard Sherman really able to cover receivers better because he’s swallowing ADD pills? I suppose it’s possible. However, even with my lack of knowledge on the subject, it initially seemed unlikely to me that Brandon Browner is taking Adderall before he steps on the field in a conscious attempt to gain a distinct competitive edge over an all-natural gym rat like Vernon Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy the visual of the entire Seahawks secondary standing in a circle before a game, cackling maniacally as they gobble down a bottle of Adderall before using their extreme focus levels to cut down Michael Crabtree. It sounds silly but after looking into a little bit, it might actually have more truth to it than you would think. Garcon seems to be fairly confident that Adderall can have on-field benefits. And according to former World Anti-Doping Committee Chairman Dr. Gary Wadler, evidence exists that suggests that Adderall can “increase alertness, aggressiveness, attention and concentration.”

Either way, the sentiments expressed by Harbaugh and Garcon ring as slightly disingenuous. Should NFL players be taking Adderall? No. At the very least, I am willing to believe that a player who is able to study film and plays longer could gain an edge when it comes to on-field play. Fair enough. But Harbaugh’s holier-than-thou cheater speech doesn’t carry as much weight for me when we’re talking about ADD medication as opposed to steroids.

Of course, the discussion runs even deeper than this. Players are allowed to say that they tested positive for a particular substance and the NFL can’t refute them or release what they were actually taking. This means Sherman could have tested positive for a steroid or other stimulant and just said it was Adderall so it didn’t look like he was juicing. This casts an immediate cloud of skepticism over any player who claims to have been taking Adderall, when we all know full well that they could say that they tested positive for a Dorito taco from Taco Bell and the NFL isn’t allowed to confirm or deny it either way.

For the sake of argument, let’s just say Brandon Browner was, in fact, taking Adderall. Even if the point can be made that it’s not a conventional performance enhancer, I have a hard time sympathizing with the guy for one simple reason: He knew it was a banned substance and he took it anyway. As an NFL player, it’s just part of your job to know what you’re ingesting. As a fan, my irritation with Browner wouldn’t stem from the idea that he was cheating. I’d be irritated because he missed crucial games late in the season because he’s taking medication my roommate takes to try and do 4 months of reading in an hour and a half.

I realize the competitive nature of the league and even the smallest of edges can make a huge difference. Seahawks players deserve their suspensions. But let’s not have a Barry Bonds-esque freak out and start campaigns to put asterisks in the record books. We should chastise them for their poor judgment and incredible lack of forethought and risk analysis. We should chastise them for stupidity. But anyone discounting the Seahawks because they’re “cheaters” is kidding themselves. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are primed to be one of the most lethal secondary duos in the league next year and when they are, it probably won’t be because they’re taking more ADD meds than their opponents. Either way, the debate is a new and intriguing variable that we now have to consider when discussing PEDs.

About Arran Gimba