By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Those of us who follow the NFL closely always say every time a player gets suspended for PED use that such news is no surprise. The physical nature of football naturally leads to many — or most? — players turning to unnatural avenues to survive the long, grueling season.
So, when news leaked last week that Julian Edelman was facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy, the reaction was almost unanimous: See you in Week 5, Julian.
But since then, the case has gotten a bit more interesting. Albert Breer noted on Monday that the folks in charge of the testing are not even sure what it is that showed up in Edelman’s test. That would seemingly open the door to the possibility of Edelman winning his appeal. After all, how could the league hold Edelman responsibility for using a banned substance if the league is not even sure of what the test showed? (Such logic obviously takes a scientific shortcut or eight, obviously. But the general principle prevails.)
And on Tuesday, The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin took a thorough, deep look at the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. And though the research revealed a number of interesting nuggets, there was one in particular that sheds a new light on the prospects of Edelman winning his appeal.
Most simply, we are not supposed to know about the looming suspension right now. Theoretically, that information is supposed to be kept secret. Anyone who leaks such news and gets caught faces a $500,000 fine. That’s a lot of guacamole.
And considering that a massive fine threatens anyone who gets caught leaking information about a failed drug test, it stands to reason that most of the time, the public does not catch wind of such situations until the matters are finalized and the appeal process has completed. Which is to say, at this point in the process, where the player is in the process of appealing the ruling, the public at large has no idea that such a fight is going on behind closed doors.
That means when we all look back and point out the very rare times that a player wins an appeal of his PED suspension, we are actually not able to analyze the full scope of this process. Again, relying on a bit of plausible reasoning, we can surmise that it is possible and even likely that a number of players have appealed their suspensions and won their appeals without the public ever catching wind of the news.
So when we look back and point at Richard Sherman (improper collection of the urine sample) and Duane Brown (tainted meat in Mexico) and Andre Brown (player was prescribed Adderall, which was banned at the time) and say those are the rarest of rare cases of players winning their appeals, the reality is that there may be many more players who won their appeals without the public knowing.
The point, then, is simple. Instead of looking at a player’s chances on appeal as being extraordinarily rare, we can reasonably deduce that the history of players successfully appealing their PED suspensions is likely much better than we can possibly know.
It’s worth noting, though, that Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out this week that the confidentiality agreement — and the accompanying $500,000 fine — is never actually enforced. As far as we all know, that is true. But the mere threat of a $500,000 fine is likely enough to keep most people from taking the risk of getting caught leaking sensitive information. (As Tom Brady can surely attest, a lack of precedence for the issuance of an extreme level of punishment does not always preclude the NFL from making new history.)
Of course, how Player X fared in his appeal process three years ago will have no bearing on Edelman’s actual appeal. For Edelman to win his appeal, he’ll need to build a case that he did not take any PEDs. The reported uncertainty in his test sample would seemingly give him an opportunity to make such a case.
Volin did note that the policy can be enforced for something as simple as a raised testosterone level. So even if the exact substance is not clear, if Edelman’s testosterone level was too high, the suspension would seemingly be upheld, barring a credible explanation. And without wading too far into the waters of scientific speculation, the same could be said if the testing revealed a substance that shared a similar structure to any of the substances on the banned list.
But overall, instead of looking at the situation and assuming that Edelman has no chance of winning the suspension, we should probably adjust our judgment — even if it’s only slightly — for the receiver’s outlook in the coming weeks.