The NFL’s Pain Management Problem

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

The National Football League (NFL) has a pain management problem. It also has a marijuana problem. The league currently regulates marijuana use among its players as part of its Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse. Revised in 2018, the program tests players for marijuana (and other “substances of abuse”) once every year during a set time (during the offseason). 

The threshold to trigger a positive test is a relatively small 35 nanograms of THC per milliliter. To get a sense of how much that is relative to common testing thresholds, one source suggests that, “following a single marijuana use, THC is unlikely to be detected in the urine beyond 3 days at the 50 ng/ml cut-off level and beyond 7 days for the 20 ng/mL cutoff level.” If a player fails a test, they face fines, suspensions, and more frequent and random testing. 

Often touted more as an “intelligence test” than a drug test, at least for marijuana (are players smart enough to stop smoking weed prior to the testing window?), the program still ensnares new players every season, including David Irving, who recently quit football live on Instagram while smoking weed, following a failed drug test which triggered an indefinite suspension by the league.

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Olympics, Doping, Genes, and Other Inconsistencies in “Performance Enhancement” and Sport– Part II

Editor’s Note: Building on yesterday’s post, guest blogger Ross Aikins goes deeper into the strange world of performance enhancement.

Just last week, both NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden tested positive for using Adderall without a prescription.  But with the world caught in a pandemic of Olympic fever, our collective doping suspicions were too transfixed on Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen to notice [1]. Yesterday’s post began to ask why—with so many substances, technologies, and rituals that purport to enhance performance in various occupations all over the world—are we so concerned about athletics?

Enhanced? You tell me.

For example, would anybody really care if Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point while taking Concerta illicitly, or if we found out that the rhetorical clout of Noam Chomsky was aided by decades of beta-blocker use during public debates?  To cite a few actual historical examples, the accomplishments of Jack Kerouac, Watson and Crick, and half of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aren’t invalidated despite the assistance of illicit substances.

This is another strange facet of sports: fairness is paramount, testing is objective, cheating is unfair, but the exemptions that allow athletes to take certain performance enhancing substances are both subjective and subject to change.

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Olympics, Doping, Genes, and Other Inconsistencies in “Performance Enhancement” and Sport

Editor’s Note: Today and tomorrow, Points “rips from the headlines” to look at doping– Olympic and otherwise– as part of drug history.  Guest blogging for us in these pieces is Ross Aikins, a self-proclaimed sports-nerd, journalist, teacher, and postdoctoral fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York City.  A recent PhD from UCLA’s School of Education, Ross principally studies enhancement drug use in society, substance use issues among military veteran and college student populations, and other education and health related issues. He blogs at; this is his first article for Points.

The Mandarin Mermaid

Two weeks ago the sports media landscape buzzed with suspicions about the dominating performance of 16 year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.  There shouldn’t be anything controversial about this.  After all, competing at the limits of human performance and shattering world records is what virtually all Olympians aspire to and train their whole lives to accomplish. But when we talk about “suspicion” in sport we’re usually talking about doping.  Olympic athletes are the most tested humans in all of sport, and to date there is no evidence to suggest Ye ever used a banned substance.

Much of the faux-controversy may stem from the fact that the freestyle leg of Ye’s 200 IM was faster than that of men’s gold medalist and world record holder Ryan Lochte.  Or, in the 400 IM, Ye dropped the world record by nearly a whole second.  But are these feats really any less credible than the perennial dominance of, for example, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who seems to regularly set world records while celebrating mid-race? And is our collective speculation over alleged athletic performance enhancement any less warranted than, say, allegations that the man who announces these feats– NBC Sports’ eternally cherubic Bob Costas– may be cosmetically enhanced?

This is where sport, and sports culture are unfairly inconsistent, despite the premium that we—the sports consuming public—place on fairness in competition.  This pair of blog posts are about a lot of things, but mostly they are about the past, present, and future of both objectivity and subjectivity in sports and sports medicine.

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