This probably won’t be very surprising to most of you, but many players on the Pittsburgh Steelers are not very impressed by the alleged ‘randomness’ of the NFL’s drug testing practices, particularly in the offseason. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN recently spoke to a number of them to ask them about their experiences with the process.
Vince Williams, for example, recalled that he was rarely subjected to such random drug testing through his first three NFL seasons while he trained on his own in Florida. But he has since been training instead with James Harrison out in Arizona. “And I get drug-tested a lot”, he told Fowler. “I don’t know how random that is, but it’s interesting”.
Fowler said that the NFLPA “has sensed a spike in player complaints the past few years over random tests following big gains in the gym or on the field”. He noted that he requested comment from both the NFL and the NFLPA about that for his article, but that neither requests were immediately returned.
Supposedly, the whole system is run by an independent arbitrator, whose selections are generate from a computer program, and there are up to 10 players per team per week who are subject to tests from the beginning of the preseason through the conclusion of the postseason.
There is a “reasonable cause” program that can target specific players, “including those who failed a drug test in college, but they must be notified that they are in it”. And obvious examples would be players such as Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell, who have previously served multiple drug suspensions.
But that doesn’t explain why Harrison is routinely drug-tested at a level far higher than the norm, as a player who has never failed a drug test at any level. The only logical explanation outside of a statistical improbability is that the drug test selection isn’t so random after all.
“Players say that even a mere affiliation with Harrison can make the process feel calculated”, Fowler wrote, recounting that, similar to Williams, Mike Mitchell also received a notice for a drug test just after “publicly discussing the gains he made while working out with Harrison in Arizona”.
Said Harrison, the poster boy for drug tests, “they can do whatever they want to”. It’s not so much the number of tests that he must deal with that he cares about. “I just want them to test everybody the same. That’s all”.
And it’s also one thing to target some players more than others and another to do so while claiming that it is entirely random except where noted with the player’s knowledge. There is good reason to question whether or not the tests are truly random, and that’s on the NFL.