Steroids In The NFL

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Although it has not received a lot of attention, a recent article in the San Diego Union looked at steroid use, team-by-team, in the NFL over the past two decades. It does not provide the type of salacious details of abuse by star players such as Roger Clemens that were recently uncovered in Major League Baseball, but it does provide a framework for a “Mitchell Report” in the NFL.

The report offers a quick discussion of its methodology, followed by a team-by-team list of players. It also provides a brief summary of the substance, the player’s excuse, and in some cases its effect on that player. (The entire list appears here:

Here are some key points from this “Mitchell Report of the NFL”:

The report lists 182 players since the 1960s that have tested positive for steroids.

There are 52 former Pro Bowlers on the list.

The report used “media reports, archives, public records and interviews with players and “league personnel” to compile the list. It also disclaimed, “it is not considered comprehensive or proportional, just the best snapshot that could be provided through those sources.”

The report states that estimates over these periods could actually put the number of users, “in the thousands.” (See

The report cites a brief summary of the player’s steroid use. Almost all of the players’ excuses are the same: they did not know they were taking steroids. The modern excuses are also the same – the steroids were in an unknown substance bought over-the-counter.

There is an accompanying story to the Report that discusses why football fans are more accepting of performance-enhancing drugs than baseball fans. Ironically, the story is from the San Diego paper, the home of Shawne Merriman and the Chargers, for whom a steroid suspension did not cause the stigma that has been attached to many baseball players. (See Here are some potential reasons why the fan base may have a more tolerant view toward football.

Football was the first to ban steroids in 1983 and the first to suspend players in 1989. Thus, the public may perceive a cleaner image than baseball, which only took note of the problem in recent years.

Football users – in many cases offensive linemen — typically do not get as much individual recognition as baseball players and therefore a certain level of anonymity may affect the public’s perception.

Baseball is replete with “magic numbers” that are not as significant in football. Hallmark numbers like 56 (DiMaggio), 61 (Maris), and 755 (Aaron) in baseball do not have their equals in football. For example, it would be more difficult to find a fan that knew 18,355 (Emmitt Smith’s rushing total) than one who know the above baseball records.

Abnormal strength and size are expected and tolerated in football. Since muscle-building supplements are the norm in the NFL, the public may be more accepting of players who take steroids.

The report also contains a timeline of the steroids history in the NFL, MLB, and NCAA. (See Some key dates in regard to football:

1987 – NFL tested for steroids and had no penalty. A 6-1 testosterone to epitestosterone ratio was considered a positive test

1989 – NFL hands out its first 4 game suspensions

1990 – NFL begins year-round drug testing

1991 – Congress classifies steroids a federally controlled substance

1991 – HGH is added to the NFL's list of banned substances

2001 – Ephedra is banned from the NFL

2002 – NFL institutes year-round Ephedra testing

2004 – NFL begins certifying supplement manufacturers

2005 – NFL lowers threshold for positive steroid test: now a 4-1 — no longer 6-1— ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is a positive test

Finally, the report mentions some other intriguing items that have recently surfaced regarding steroid use in the NFL, including:

In May, David Jacobs, a convicted, high-profile steroids provider to NFL players, met with NFL security officials and listed information about players for which he supplied steroids, although he would not publicly mention any of the players he discussed with the NFL officials. Later in June, Jacobs committed suicide. (See

An Op-Ed by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), praising the NFL as the professional league that has cracked down the most on the steroid problem. It lists the NFL’s policies and praises the league for a job well done: “Through its ongoing commitment to combating steroids, the NFL continues to make a good-faith effort to uphold its responsibility to its younger fans.” (See

In 2005, 60 Minutes did its own investigation of steroids in the NFL. The story is a little dated, yet discusses the Carolina Panthers' players who used, specifically Todd Steussie. It also discusses the difficulties associated with testing. (See

Also in 2005, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on steroids in the NFL (similar to what Congress did in convening hearings that led to the Mitchell report). Go to The list of individuals testifying at the committee appears at the bottom of the link. Notably, it is mostly scientists and high school football coaches.

What are we left with after this investigative work on the subject of steroids? Unlike the Mitchell Report, we do not have a breathless media scooping for names of users. We do not have an outraged fan base railing against the user players. We do not have concern about records being broken by users (although Merriman’s actions have led to altering Pro Bowl participation for users). We have a long litany of users in America’s most popular sport, yet little outrage for the list. The NFL’s proactive stance on the issue is clearly important here, as is the public infatuation with “magic numbers” in baseball more so than football. Moreover, suspensions like the one this week of Saint’s starting guard Jamar Nesbit continue to fuel the perception that the NFL is dealing with the problem with a zero-tolerance policy that is working. And, as we know, perception breeds reality. Kudos to the San Diego Union-Tribune for their comprehensive work outlined here. Steroids cause difficulties, more long-term than short-term, which may be the biggest problem of all. Many athletes are willing to sacrifice long-term pain for short-term gain and steroids are a symptom of that behavior. The users of today will be the affected group of tomorrow. For that, there should be more outrage.

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