Another day out of the year, another performance-enhancing drug test failure by an athlete. These incidents are more and more common, and only create ripples when a star player is implicated. The four-game suspension handed out to Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin for Adderall hardly registered outside the Pacific Northwest.
However, it is a disturbing trend for the Seahawks. Irvin is now the fifth Seahawk suspended for drug use since 2011, and cornerback Richard Sherman narrowly avoided being the sixth. Irvin, along with Allen Barbre, Brandon Browner, John Moffitt and Winston Guy, have created suspicion among fans on just how clean their team is.
Only the naive would believe that the Seahawks have the only group of players that boost their performance chemically. Football is a brutal sport and recovering quickly from injury is the difference between the playoffs and watching them from home, and the difference between a multi-million dollar contract, and a veteran's minimum. When the stakes are this high, players make use out of every advantage they can find.
Irvin tested positive for Adderall, the latest trend among athletes. It is a psychostimulant and increases awareness and focus. Prolonged use also causes psychological damage, which is the reason it is a restricted drug in the United States (available only through a prescription). Analysts speculate that athletes take it alongside a steroid regimen so that if they fail a drug test, they can claim they failed Adderall (which would technically be true) and not have the stigma of a muscle enhancer.
Of the NBA, NFL and MLB, the NFL easily has the strongest drug testing policy. That does not really say much, honestly. The players union fights every step in testing rigorously. A new blood test that would catch most every designer performance-enhancing drug, including Human Growth Hormone which an anonymous player said is being used by "10 to 15 players in every locker room", is still not being used in part because of the union.
Back when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were implicated for steroids, a journalist called current athletics "a steroid culture". Going from a star to a superstar with a pill or an injection. With many players using enhancers, players who do not now have to either use them to even the playing field, or risk being phased out by their brethren.
The dangers and damage of drug use are entirely ignored by the users. When you can earn enough money that your entire family never has to work again, a little damage to the body later in life seems like a small price to pay. The anonymous player felt that way exactly: "I say, just let guys do it. This is our career. We're putting on for fans."
An attitude like this is not likely to change even with a stricter drug testing policy. It would seem barbaric to watch these men throw their futures on the table for millions now, and yet it seems like a natural step. As testing improves, new drugs evade them. It becomes a losing battle in a war on drugs. Fans pay to see the players run faster, jump higher, hit harder. In the modern NFL coliseum, the only ones that understand what is really at stake are the players on the field.
Perhaps we should stop pushing the testing and just watch. It is a cruel response, waiting for when the athletes can barely move in wrecked bodies from years of pushing themselves to the limit and beyond. Maybe then the next generation will understand what is at stake off the field.
Some lessons need to be learned the hard way. An unknown writer put it best: "History is a good teacher, not a kind one".