CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 01: Weslye Saunders #44 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown against Michael Greco #40 the Carolina Panthers during their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
It was reported earlier Tuesday that TE Weslye Saunders will be suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season. However, there was no confirmation of whether it was for the league's substance abuse policy (drugs, narcotics, etc.) or the league's steroid and related substances policy (HGH, anabolic steroids, etc.)
There are at least two writers suggesting Saunders' alleged positive test came not from PEDs or drugs, but rather, a therapeutic drug which contained an ingredient on the league's list of banned substances.
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweeted Tuesday he had information regarding the suspension, and suggested a suspension may be out of line.
Fellow Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly had a pair of tweets along the same lines, but much more pointed.
Kaboly's second tweet, coming soon after the first, was far more revealing.
The NFL has run into this issue in the past - with a player currently on the Steelers roster.
As Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer prepared for the draft in 2010, his agent, Robert London, notified every NFL team that his client took Adderall - a medication for attention deficit disorder (ADD) - which is amphetamine salts. London told teams that Dwyer's drug test would come back positive for amphetamines.
Dwyer's test came back positive, as predicted. The league considers it to be a therapeutic exemption though if the player has the proper prescriptions for the medication (as a Schedule II Controlled Substance in the United States, you cannot possess it without a prescription, and that prescription must be hand-written from a doctor).
But instead of concealing the situation or reporting it as such an exemption, the information somehow made its way into the same report as all of the other positive test results - like former USC TE Anthony Davis, who tested positive for marijuana - and was released to the media in the same way.
Dwyer was thought to be as high as a second-round draft pick in 2010. The Steelers drafted him in the sixth round with the 188th pick overall. Perhaps that wasn't just because of the drug test - his weight was certainly a concern at The Combine that year - but the negative attention brought to him by the test result certainly didn't help either.
This is not to suggest that the NFL's anti-drug rules are inappropriate; rather, it is the idea that the league is in the position to potentially and powerfully damage the lives of innocent people. The league should be candidly aware of the amount of media coverage it receives, and with that, it has a responsibility to ensure privacy of those matters to the highest level of its ability. Dwyer and his agent took the appropriate steps to inform the league of the medication he was prescribed, and notified them his drug test would come back positive for amphetamines. The league failed Dwyer, if not from a legal sense, then from an ethical one.
Kaboly and Kovacevic are strongly suggesting that Saunders' case is very similar, if not the same. It's highly unlikely they would go as far as they did if Saunders had tested positive for something illegal. Plus, amphetamines are covered under the league's substance abuse policy, which would mean a suspension would be warranted in the event of a third failed drug test by Saunders.
Perhaps the information regarding his suspension was prematurely released from a veteran reporter (Aaron Wilson) who reported Saunders would be suspended. As we've written, a player can be suspended for four games (the amount of time Wilson reported) for violating the league's substance abuse policy for a third time, or for a first violation of the league's policy on steroids and related substances.
If it's a therapeutic drug, and this is indeed Saunders' third failed drug test (taking Wilson's information as accurate), it suggests a lack of communication between the league and Saunders, or a simple situation where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
The substance Saunders allegedly tested positive for won't formally be released to the public - we can only look at the compelling but intentionally vague information from two beat reporters, and situations like Dwyer's for comparison.
All of this suggests there is something boiling under the surface, and perhaps Saunders has something of a battle ahead of him.