We always hear about NFL players getting suspended for failed drug tests. In today’s game it is a harsh reality that all teams must face. People aren’t perfect. They make mistakes and sometimes that includes taking drugs. People mostly take drugs for recreation but sometimes, as can be the case with professional athletes, they take them to gain a competitive edge. Either way, the NFL is vigilant in trying to keep all drugs out of football. Players are routinely caught and faced with the consequences for their actions, but what happens when an NFL player has something in their system that they didn’t knowingly ingest?
Philadelphia Eagles offensive linemen Lane Johnson is facing a 10-game suspension for his second positive drug test. It wasn’t weed that did him in, but an undisclosed performance enhancing drug. This is a big hit for Johnson and it isn’t his first offense. Financially speaking, the Eagles can now recoup about $1.7 million in bonus money should they choose to, and his base game salaries that were once guaranteed no longer are. For the 26-year-old tackle who is in the first year of a new contract extension, this is could be career-threatening. Right now he should be entering his prime and playing the best football of his life, but instead he will be on the shelf until November and the Eagles could void his $56 million contract altogether, should they feel so inclined.
When Johnson was last suspended four games for PEDs back in 2014, he took full responsibility for letting his team down. This time he is singing a different tune and is throwing some of the blame at the NFLPA. Lane Johnson is not accepting responsibility for this positive PED test and is instead blaming an amino acid supplement that he purchased from a league approved app. Blaming a tainted supplement is nothing new. Recently it was Antonio Gates who missed 4 games in 2015 using this same excuse. There’s no way to know the truth but if you know anything about the dietary supplement industry, you know this isn’t all that far-fetched.
Johnson claims that the players union does not stand up for it’s members in instances such as this because they approved this app and recommended that players use it. But the NFLPA responded by reminding him that the final responsibility for what enters their body lies with the players, that the NFLPA does not approve any supplements and that players are reminded within the app and at team meetings that supplements may contain ingredients not listed on the label. With all of that information available to him, I don’t think Johnson has much hope for overturning this suspension upon appeal but that’s not the important issue in this story.
The important issue is that supplements may contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the label. What other product in this country is available for public consumption that allows the manufacturers to include mystery ingredients? There’s nothing to stop companies from including fillers and cheaper ingredients to increase profits and that’s exactly what they do. This is ludicrous and it’s time for the FDA to step it up and fully regulate the supplement industry.
The FDA’s logic for continuing to allow the dietary supplement industry to run wild and adulterate their products is that these dietary supplements are classified as food products and therefore are not subject to the strict standards governing the sale of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Obviously the companies can still be held liable in court for any misleading statements made about the supplements or their ingredients but in cases like Lane Johnson’s (if he is telling the truth) the damage is already done and the victim has lost out on millions of dollars.
Supplements are not food. They are powders and pills that claim to have specific nutrients or vitamins in them and are used by athletes to help them achieve and maintain peak physical condition. It’s dangerous for these companies to be allowed to police themselves, and it is not in their best interest to be honest about what is in their products. As long as they can make money by cutting corners and using cheaper and more dangerous ingredients, that is exactly what they will do. Just like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle illustrated how the meat industry at the turn of the 20th century needed to be regulated. Cases like this show why the supplement industry needs regulation.
There are many ingredients that are common in supplements that are known to be unhealthy or downright dangerous and it’s no secret that the supplement manufacturers disregard these facts. The idea of tainted supplements may seem on the surface as a desperate attempt by players to clear their names after being caught cheating. But there has been at least one case that proved the innocence of an NFL player who tested positive for a banned substance. Back in 2009, a court awarded Rams linebacker, David Vobora, $5.4 million in a case against a supplement company that included a banned ingredient in the product that the player had ingested. After Vobora’s suspension, he claimed that he had studied the ingredient list and consulted the NFL about the product, yet the product still contained PEDs. The court ruled in Vobora’s favor and said that the company had included the ingredient without putting it on the label but nothing has changed. How is that legal?
It’s time for the FDA to get on top of this situation. NFL players missing out on millions of dollars is one thing. No one wants to see their favorite player miss time because they did everything they could to operate within the rules and maintain the ludicrous level strength and speed required for pro sports, but still tested positive due to some supplement manufacturing assholes lying about what’s inside that powder that tastes like chocolate piss water. Sports is one thing, but what about other stuff that might be in these supplements and the risk that it puts regular folks at?
Our government is there to protect us from money-hungry companies that put profits ahead of people, it’s about time the FDA remembers that and clamps down on the supplement industry. For an industry that has been estimated to be worth as much as $37 billion, it doesn’t seem like to much to ask that they be forthcoming with the ingredients that they put inside their product. It should have happened a long time ago, but maybe it will take Paul Ryan’s favorite player getting banned for a tainted supplement before anything substantial happens. Until then, it could be your favorite player who gets screwed next.