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Understanding the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy

Martavis Bryant was recently suspended for using marijuana, a recreational drug. The NFL has a separate policy for performance-enhancing drugs.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL and the NFLPA, the players union, agreed to new policies for performance-enhancing drug use in 2014. It makes sense that there are two policies since marijuana really doesn't help players improve their game. So, what happens to players who use banned substances to gain an edge?

This policy is in place to ensure a fair playing field and keep players healthy. It applies not only to players, but also to club personnel, athletic trainers, coaches, and team physicians. This particular policy covers the use of anabolic and androgenic steroids, stimulants, human or animal growth hormones, and related substances. It also covers substances such as diuretics and agents that mask the presence of performance-enhancing drugs. Blood doping and gene doping are also prohibited under this policy.

Testing Schedules

Like the other substance abuse policy, this one requires testing on a predetermined schedule. Players are tested at least once per year. Ten players per team are randomly selected each week to be tested during both the preseason and regular season. This continues in the postseason for teams who have made the playoffs.

In the offseason, only players under contract are subject to testing. They may be tested up to six times.

Reasonable Cause Program

Certain players, including those who tested positive in college up to two years before the declare for the draft, become a part of the Reasonable Cause Program through which they are subject to more frequent testing for a minimum of two years. Players are entitled to know why they have been placed in the Reasonable Cause Program.


Instances of failing to appear for testing, refusal to comply with testing, or manipulating samples is counted as a positive test. Likewise, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse if a player tests positive. In other words, a player cannot have a positive test voided if he says, "What??! Me?? I didn't know I took that!"

In the event of a positive test, players are notified, and a second sample from the same collection date is tested by a different toxicologist. Players are also required to submit to a medical examination.

Like the other substance abuse policy, this one is divided into steps.

Step One

If a player tests positive for a diuretic or masking agent, he will be suspended for two games without pay. Positive tests for anabolic agents or stimulants result in a four-game suspension. And, for those crafty players who test positive for both masking agents and anabolic agents a six-game suspension is in order.

Step Two

This step is for second-time offenders. The consequence at this level is a 10-game suspension that can be carried over to the next season if there are not enough games in the current season for a player to serve his full suspension.

Step Three

Step three is for players who think they can keep getting away with cheating and violate the policy for a third time. Players who haven't learned their lesson in Step One or Step Two are suspended for two seasons.


As is the case for all league discipline, players are entitled to an appeal. If the verdict is upheld, players can appeal on the basis of faulty process. That means they cannot dispute the facts of the case, but can complain about the way the discipline was handed down and communicated to them.


Entities who violate the player's privacy about his medical records as they pertain to performance-enhancing drugs are subject to a $500,000 fine.

Player Suspensions

The Washington Redskins lead the league in PED suspensions since 2010 with 10. The Seahawks came in second at nine, while the Colts came in third with six such suspensions in the last five years. With five suspensions each are the Ravens, Giants, Rams, and Buccaneers.