NFL’s Policy Against Performance-Enhancing Substances: Sneaky, Strict, and Expensive

As the calendar turns to September, countless NFL fans prepare with wide eyes and high expectations for their favorite teams, with hopes that their team will play every Sunday for the next 5 months. The teams themselves, however are hard at work forging their best 53, preparing for their Week 1 opponent.

Unfortunately, however, some, if not most, NFL teams have trouble forging their best 53 due to various instances over the course of the offseason where some players make themselves unavailable for the start of the season. Naturally, some players will face injury in the off-season. Look no further than Cincinatti Bengals Wide Receiver A.J. Green, who’s lost for most of the season with an off-season injury. In other instances, an impact player like Andrew Luck will retire late in the summer. Most disappointing, though, are the absences of players who face suspension for violation of the Policy on Performance-Enhancing Drugs, however the athletes seem to miss out as much as the teams do when the policy is violated.

        This upcoming season, several impact players are lost to drug policy violations to begin the season. Players like Arizona Cardinals Cornerback Patrick Peterson, Tennessee Titans Left Tackle Taylor Lewan, and New York Giants Wide Receiver Golden Tate headline the suspended players. The NFL’s “Policy on Performance Enhancing Substances” is put into effect to protect the integrity of the game, stating “[the banned substances] have no legitimate place in professional football.” The Policy is a “strict liability policy” in which the players are wholly responsible for the substances in their body at the time of testing, regardless of whether they had actual knowledge of what they were ingesting.

“The NFL Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances is a strict liability policy – you are responsible for what is in your body.”

NFL Policy Against Performance-Enhancing Substances, Appendix E.

The NFL provides players with an extensive list of substances banned under the drug policy. The problem some players face, however, is that many of these athletes are suspended for supplements they ingest unintentionally. This is because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does NOT regulate nutritional substances, and nutrition companies don’t need to list all of the ingredients on the label because the products aren’t considered medicine, but rather substances only believed to have nutritional value. Additionally, supplements may be contaminated by another substance made in the same area by the manufacturer, so in short, it’s difficult to know what’s going on inside the supplement.

The NFL Policy, frankly, is easy to violate, and the punishments are harsh. Players who test positive face suspension without pay, and repeat offenders will see longer suspensions and potentially higher fines.

“Any suspension shall be without pay and served as set forth below.  Longer suspensions may be imposed for repeat offenders.  In addition, Players violating this Policy under this Section will be appropriately placed or advanced to the next disciplinary step.  In this respect, Players are reminded of federal legislation which criminalizes possession and distribution of steroids.”

NFL Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances, Subsection 5.

Players are free to appeal violations and suspensions, but once their punishment is final, they will face suspension. The monetary hit players take is largely dependent on their contracts, but a player like Taylor Lewan, who makes on average 16 million dollars a year, according to, will miss out on 4/17th of his contract, surrendering game checks for each game missed during his suspension.

“Expensive 4 game PED suspension for Taylor Lewan. He’s out $3,411,765, which is 4/17th of his $14.5M base salary. Under the CBA, Titans are also required to recoup 4/17ths of the $2.2M in signing bonus proration allocated to 2019 ($517,647). Total of $3,929,412”

Twitter: Joel Corry (@Joelcorry) August 23, 2019.

           Teams give their athletes the opportunity to have all of their nutritional supplements checked for any illegal substance, but that takes time some athletes are not willing to spend. For most though, it should be a necessary evil they face to avoid this type of unfortunate circumstance.

Policy violations can derail seasons, tarnish reputations, and ruin careers – all reasons why this topic will headline CBA talks in the near future.

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