Posted on Fri, Jul. 04, 2003
Substances policy unchanged
NFLPA pushed to get 4-game suspension for 1st positive test reduced
The NFL isn't reducing penalties for players who test positive for ephedra or other banned substances in dietary supplements.
The penalty for a first positive test will continue to be a four-game suspension without pay, despite attempts by NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw to negotiate a lighter sentence with the league.
NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis confirmed Thursday that the four-game penalty will remain. He said Upshaw was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Carolina Panthers' defensive linemen Julius Peppers and Brentson Buckner were among several players who served four-game suspensions last season. Both said they took supplement pills, but were unaware the pills contained banned ingredients.
During a Jan. 23 NFLPA news conference, Upshaw said he was urging the league's management council to change the policy.
"(The NFL) is still at four weeks and we're at zero," Upshaw said then. "Somewhere in there is a deal."
Because the rule is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players' union, both sides would have to agree for changes to occur.
After Peppers' suspension in November brought national attention to the policy, critics argued it was more punitive than a first positive test for illegal street drugs, and as severe as the punishment for anabolic steroids.
Buckner told the Observer in November he felt he was treated "like a straight-up criminal."
Peppers' advisor Carl Carey said Thursday that even though the penalty is stern, he believes the league and union were diligent in evaluating the policy.
"If the league has thoroughly investigated the issue and come back with the same type of penalty for that violation, then I trust that the league has done their homework," Carey said. "The bottom line is we know that their goal is to keep the integrity of the game where it is."
Agent Harold Lewis, whose client Lew Bush of the Chiefs also was suspended for violating the policy last year, is disappointed no change was made.
Lewis said players should receive a warning for their first failed test, and a four-game suspension for a second violation.
"None of these players, knowing what the penalty is, knowing the embarrassment it brings, and knowing the cost to their team and to their pockets would knowingly take something banned," he said. "It was inadvertent every time it happened last year. ... There should be some form of leniency."
Studies have shown ephedra can cause heart palpitations and nervous-system symptoms that can lead to heart attacks, seizures and heat strokes.
After the spring training death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler was linked to his use of ephedra, the American Medical Association called for the stimulant to be banned.