Evidently, for NFL players, it is harder than I realized to smoke marijuana and not get caught.
Either that, or it is utterly amazing how careless and unprofessional some of these guys can be.
At least that's my current working theory after several players, including most notably Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain, were suspended recently under the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Without getting bogged down into too much minutiae, here are the rules: Players get tested once a year for "street drugs" (including marijuana) and that test is in May or June, during the team's Organized Team Activities. A positive test would place the player in the league's program, which entails more frequent testing and some meetings. If the player fulfills his requirements in the program, he needs to test positive two more times to get suspended. If the NFL's medical director believes the player hasn't adequately participated in the program, a second positive test could trigger a four-game suspension like the ones that Richardson and McClain got.
There are a couple key points that need to be reiterated:
1) NFL players only get tested once a year for substances and they KNOW when it will take place.
2) Even if a player tests positive once, as long as he does what the league asks, there won't be any serious repercussions unless he tests positive TWO MORE TIMES.
Let's start with the first point, which is really the most important one. Everybody knows when the test is coming. Every year. To use some Wellsian (Ted, that is) terms, I was "generally aware" during my time as a player of several teammates who "more probable than not" smoked marijuana on a fairly regular basis.
How do I know? They talked about it, hinted at it and even smelled like it from time to time. Yet none of those guys that I remember, with the notable exception of one after we were no longer teammates, ever had any issue with the NFL's substance abuse policy, which is an intelligence test as much as anything. But don't just take my word for it.
I'm just going to be real....dudes know when the street drugs test is coming, just count backwards!!!- Damien Woody (@damienwoody) July 2, 2015
So testing positive in the first place is utterly avoidable. But let's just say for argument's sake that for, whatever reason, a player did test positive. I don't know, maybe he forgot the test was coming up or just didn't care. Fine.
The NFL gives you a second chance. And, really, a third chance before you miss games, as long as you follow the protocol that the league lays out for you.
That means that Richardson and McClain ingested a substance (Richardson's positive test was reportedly for marijuana) even though they knew it would cost them close to 25 percent of their salary.
This is why professional athletes get a bad rap sometimes, and rightfully so. The general public can't comprehend the level of stupidity and carelessness that it takes to forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars and hurt your team at the same time. Richardson is one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL; along with Mo Wilkerson and Snacks Harrison, he's part of the Jets' best position group. McClain was a pleasant surprise for a Cowboys defense that exceeded all reasonable expectations a year ago.
Now both of them are out for a quarter of the season and, given the fact that it got to this point, they could each miss 10 games the next time they test positive.
This isn't about whether or not marijuana should be illegal. Many people much better educated on the subject have written on the topic. This is about the fact that, even though the NFL's current substance abuse policy tests for the drug, it is incredibly easy to pass that test and still play football while smoking pot in your spare time, if you are so inclined.
Or at least I thought it was easy.