What a waste of time.
That was my reaction on Sunday and those are still my thoughts today regarding the news that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had surprised several NFL teams by inspecting their prescription painkiller bags. DEA officials also questioned team physicians and trainers regarding their process for dispensing these medications.
It sounds like a big deal. It feels important.
I know that may disappoint a lot of folks that want to criticize or take down the big bad NFL any chance they get. Even more have an Any Given Sunday vision of what goes down in NFL locker rooms based upon that movie and other exaggerated stories over the years, and believe that an NFL locker room is the Wild West when it comes to handing out such substances.
That's not to say you can't get a pain-killing injection or pain-relieving medication if you need it. You can. It's just a lot more regulated than most people think. As it should be.
Based on the reaction to a couple of tweets I wrote on Sunday, it is clear that a lot of fans and even some members of the media are out of their element when it comes to what exactly takes place on an NFL team and what the DEA was really investigating. Having played for five different teams during my seven years in the NFL starting in 2001 and retiring in 2008, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what goes on in those training rooms.
As an NFL medical source told me Sunday evening and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk posted about as well, this is not an issue of the DEA looking for evidence of prescription drug abuse among players, trainers and doctors. Instead, they were simply checking to make sure that the teams are following the proper protocol in terms of dispensing those meds. Specifically, the DEA is concerned with doctors travelling with and dispensing medicine across state lines. That is technically illegal, though -- in practice -- the better alternative (as I'll explain later).
This is not some widespread scandal. If there is an issue for some teams, it is a clerical and administrative -- one that the league and teams should get corrected immediately.
I don't know about you, but I'd like to think that there is a better usage of our government agencies' time and money than working to confirm that NFL doctors and trainers are filing the right paperwork and going about the process of handing out prescription medicines to professional football players in the right way. Aren't there real drug dealers to worry about?
I've heard the arguments supporting the DEA's investigation loud and clear via social media. "A crime is a crime no matter how small," "The DEA can do both" (handle the NFL and larger drug trafficking issues), and "The NFL is not above the law" were some of the most popular responses I received on Twitter.
For the "crime is a crime" contingent, would you want your local police department pulling you over for speeding if they caught you driving 37 MPH in a 35 MPH zone? Is that the best and most efficient use of their time in order to protect and serve your community? Man, I hope not.
Yes, the DEA can "do both" on some level but their time and resources are not unlimited. Any man hours they spend worrying about the minutiae related to NFL team doctors dispensing prescription drugs across state lines for road games is necessarily time that could have been spent trying to catch, I don't know, actual criminals maybe?
And no, the NFL is not above the law. Far from it. Their handling of Adrian Peterson's adjudication, in light of all of the negative publicity they have already received this season for various reasons, is mind-boggling. It's like they didn't expect Peterson to plead no contest and didn't have any idea what the next step would be when he did. How is that possible?
I know it makes a pretty spicy headline. Put the words "DEA", "Drugs" and "NFL" together in a sentence and you are destined to get a bunch of clicks. I get it.
The reality, however, is that this is a very minor situation that is probably only taking place because of a lawsuit that a bunch of former players filed against the NFL in May. I can't speak to what happened with some of those guys -- former Chicago Bears players Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne are among the plaintiffs, which total 750. I can only tell you from my experience that the idea that trainers dispense painkillers like Pez isn't true in the modern NFL. They dispense it with a doctor's prescription and make note of and account for every single pill. They have to.
In fact, if NFL team doctors and trainers aren't allowed to bring prescription drugs across state lines, then there are two ways in which they can still get the players the medicine they need.
They can have the home team doctor prescribe those medications for a player who, for example, broke his ankle during the game. My source tells me that many NFL teams already have that understanding. For players with pre-existing conditions, they must prescribe the drug to him in their home state and then he brings it with him on the away trip. That's legal, as patients are allowed to bring meds across state lines, unlike doctors and trainers.
Do you think there is a better chance for abuse if the team doctors bring the medicine and dispense it one dose at a time or if the team has to give the player several days or even weeks worth of it up front?
I'd much rather have the team doctors giving them out than just putting them all in the hands of the players ahead of time. I've seen what can happen in the latter option and it can lead to not only abuse from that player -- but in him dispensing meds such as Ambien or Vicodin to other players on the team, in some instances. That, by the way, is another reason why you shouldn't believe that teams give painkillers to just anybody. If they did, why would players have to share?
I was told that when the DEA was informed recently of this reality, they responded that it is their job to "enforce the law as written, not make the law." Great.
So the end result from all this will be that NFL teams, if they aren't already, will follow the letter of a law that flies in the face of common sense as it relates to away games for professional athletes.
Maybe you think that is a worthwhile endeavor for the DEA. Maybe you are happy that is where your hard earned tax money is going.
I know I sure don't.