The NFL announced today the suspension without pay for four games of six players that violated the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.
The players specifically violated a longstanding provision of the policy relating to the use of diuretics and water pills, which serve as masking agents for steroids and are potentially dangerous to the health of players.
The policy states that the use of so-called “blocking” or “masking” agents, including diuretics and water pills, is prohibited and that a positive test will not be excused because it results from the use of a dietary supplement that unknowingly contained a banned substance. Supplements are not regulated or monitored by the government and players have been warned about the risks of supplement use.
“You and you alone are responsible for what goes into your body,” the policy has always stated. “Claiming that you used only legally available nutritional supplements will not help you in an appeal…Even if they are bought over-the-counter from a known establishment, there is currently no way to be sure that they contain the ingredients listed on the packaging or have not been tainted with prohibited substances…If you take these products, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK! For your own health and success in the league, we strongly encourage you to avoid the use of supplements altogether, or at the very least to be extremely careful about what you choose to take.”
The six players are each suspended for the final four games of the regular-season. If the player’s team qualifies for the playoffs, he is eligible to return to the active roster on Monday, December 29. The suspended players are:
Charles Grant, New Orleans
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans
Bryan Pittman, Houston
Will Smith, New Orleans
Kevin Williams, Minnesota
Pat Williams, Minnesota
The appeals process in this matter included close to 30 hours of hearings. NFL Executive Vice President of Labor and League Counsel Jeff Pash heard and decided all of the appeals except for Bryan Pittman’s. The appeals officer for Pittman was former NFL Executive Vice President and League Counsel Jay Moyer. Following are key excerpts from Jeff Pash’s decision upholding the suspensions:
*Bumetanide, a potent diuretic, has long been a prohibited substance under the policy and is similarly banned by other drug-testing programs. Diuretics are banned for two reasons – first, because they can be used to mask the use of performance-enhancing drugs; and second, because they can pose a threat to player health and safety.
*The policy contains numerous specific warnings about dietary supplements. NFL players received separate advisories regarding supplements (attached). These included two memos from Dr. John Lombardo (the program’s independent administrator) entitled “Weight Reduction Products,” which were sent to players in July of 2007, and again in July of 2008.
*In addition, two notifications specifically mentioning Star Caps were sent on December 19, 2006. One was sent to the presidents, general managers, and head athletic trainers of all NFL clubs. The second was sent to Stacy Robinson, the NFLPA executive who oversees the Steroid Policy on behalf of the union. The letter to Robinson states that “Balanced Health Products, which distributes Star Caps, has been added to the list of prohibited dietary supplement companies. Please distribute this information to the agents and players through your normal channels.” In response, Robinson had Balanced Health Products added to the list of banned companies that is maintained on the NFLPA’s website.
*(For those players with weight clause bonus provisions in their contracts,) the player specifically agreed not to engage in any “last-minute weight reduction techniques,” which included “use of diuretics.”
*There is no question that the policy embodies a collectively bargained rule of strict liability – a rule that players alone are responsible for what is in their bodies; that inadvertent or unknowing use of a prohibited substance will not excuse a positive test; and that supplements are used at a player’s own risk.
*With respect to the question of whether a specific warning should have been given regarding Star Caps, the policy does not set forth an obligation to issue specific warnings about specific products and no testimony suggests that the NFL and NFLPA have ever contemplated imposing such a requirement on Dr. Lombardo, who oversees the development of education materials on steroids. In keeping with that responsibility, the NFL, NFLPA, and Dr. Lombardo have emphasized the need for extreme caution in the use of any supplement, including weight reduction products, have established a Hotline for players to call for information regarding supplements, have established a Supplement Certification program with EAS to provide players with supplements that are free of banned substances, and have, in conjunction with reinforcing the strict liability rule, repeatedly warned players about the dangers of unregulated and inaccurately labeled dietary supplements. In the past, players have been suspended for using dietary supplements that contained a banned substance.
*The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) does not issue specific warnings about specific supplements, nor are such warnings issued in other drug testing programs.