Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and the NFL’s Drug Policy


Dec 1, 2011; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner (39) celebrates with teammate Richard Sherman (25) after Browner intercepted a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks defeated the Eagles 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Any 12th Men out there who happen to also be friends with 49er fans know that it has become that much harder to tolerate the barbs and “clever” quips that ceaselessly emanate from a city that seems to have forgotten the years of 1995-2011 now that Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are facing suspension due to non-sanctioned use of a “performance enhancing” drug. I say “non-sanctioned” because the drug Adderall is not, in fact, illegal, and put quotations around performance enhancing because Adderall is an ADD medication, not a steroid. As someone who has both played sports their whole life and has also taken Adderall a few times, I’m not aware of any performance enhancements Adderall provided that something such as 5-Hour Energy wouldn’t also provide.

There are several issues that I’d like to cover. First and foremost is that Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner should have known better. If they intentionally took Adderall or any other non-sanctioned substance, then they let their team, fan-base, and city down. They basically allowed one of the most iconic and amazing parts of the Seattle Seahawks to be nothing more than a house built on sand. The “Legion of Boom” becomes the Legion of Gloom. All of Richard Sherman’s talk becomes artificially enhanced bloviating. Why would a Stanford graduate take something banned by the NFL (unless you have a prescription) that marginally (at best) improves your performance knowing the cost of getting caught. To me this would make me think it’s a false-positive or that Sherman honestly didn’t know. Or he is arrogant enough to think he wouldn’t be caught. I don’t like the third option nearly as much. Most of the same questions hold true for Brandon Browner.

All of this, of course, relies on the word of Sherman and Browner who stated that the “PED” is Adderall. The NFL won’t release the drugs that are positively tested for because of its preservationist mindset and stopping at nothing to make sure the “shield” never gets tarnished by anything as specific as HGH or other steroids. Releasing the substance would allow for a more nuanced approach to enforcement (Adderall is not the same as anabolic steroids) but could link the NFL to a scandal similar to the one professional baseball went through. Profits before clarity, right? And all for the health of the players.

It is also incredibly unusual (as in an actual statistical anomaly) that the NFL has such a high rate of success on upholding decisions on appeals. I bet the US Anti-Doping Agency and the Olympics wish they had the same sort of success.

I do believe that substances should be banned. I don’t want professional players taking steroids. The game is big, fast, and dangerous enough as it is. Steroids are dangerous to players personally and on the field. There does need to be refinement in the NFL’s policy, however. Transparency would be a big step. It should be reported what players are deemed guilty of having consumed. The player shouldn’t get the privacy if they violate such a policy and the league should have to show it is being responsible, fair and even with enforcing its drug policy. Olympic athletes have to get tested after every competition. If the NFL is really concerned about barring certain substances from being consumed, I see no better method than making tested regular and mandatory for every player. Throw out the randomness. That is the best way to decrease usage.

The current policy is that players will be tested for human growth hormone (HGH) at least once a year and players will be randomly tested an unlimited amount of times during a season on game days for HGH and other substances. Players can also be tested up to six random times during the offseason.  There is not testing for actual illegal substances, however, such as drugs. Also, the entire drug policy itself is not even available to the public which allows obfuscation by both the players and the NFL. Why should we trust the NFL over the players? Or vice versa? Drug testing isn’t perfect and players can always lie. The way to mitigate this is, again, transparency.

Obviously, this is being written because events have taken place effecting the team, and players, that I root for and support. I want nothing more, though, than any cloud of uncertainty to be removed. I want to know whether or not Sherman and Browner have actually violated the policy and with which substance so that nobody is inappropriately accused of lying and that the liars are exposed. I want to know that Roger Goodell, who I don’t have much respect for anyway, is actually enforcing this policy accurately and responsibly. I want to know that finding players who violate the policy isn’t arbitrary and random, but rather robust and complete. Just because the NFL has the final word doesn’t make the NFL correct.

If Goodell came into my office and dumped the file case on to my desk and all the evidence showed that Browner and Sherman were taking a banned substance, I’d be forced to acknowledge it and have to suffer the ridicule. The players would also have to face the honest and strong backlash from their fans which would be more discouragement for taking such substances. The only way both sides can be defended and wrong and right at the same time is by withholding all the important and relevant details. It isn’t fun for the players and it sure isn’t fun for the fans. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about the current situation, and it isn’t the food poisoning I’m recovering from.

I really hope Sherman and Browner are innocent. For themselves and the city they represent. Chances are, we’ll never truly know. My 49er friends can twist logic as it suits them to claim that Sherman and Browner were using something more serious than Adderall and continue to crap all over Seattle and my Seahawks friends can be supportive until more solid evidence is produced, which it never will be. This isn’t a good system for fans or players. The only thing a half-assed drug policy like this protects it the League itself.