Is the NFL Removing Suspensions for Positive Drug Tests?

On March 15, 2020, the NFL and NFL Players Association signed the new collective bargaining agreement. A lot of new changes were proposed in the new CBA, like an extension to a 17-game season. One of these changes was a dramatic shift if the NFL’s drug testing policy. The league’s drug policy is much more lenient than the old CBA. Many believe that the new policy can be more beneficial for both the players and the league.

The old CBA drug-testing policy

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Under the drug testing policy of the old CBA, the drug testing period was fourth months throughout the NFL season. Likewise, 10 players from each team were randomly selected each week for a drug test.

Under the old CBA, any performance-enhancing or illicit drug, including marijuana, cocaine, and many others, were strictly forbidden. A positive test resulted in admission to a substance abuse program. A second positive test resulted in a fine equivalent to two-game checks.

If a player continues to fail a drug test, the punishment gets significantly worse. For instance, a third drug infraction resulted in a fine equivalent to four-game checks. If there is a fourth drug infraction, there was a four-game suspension. A fifth infraction led to a ten-game inspection. And a sixth infraction resulted in a suspension for the rest of the NFL season.

NFL player’s reaction to the old CBA drug-testing policy

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Under the old CBA, the NFL drug test window was four months; players could be screened at any time. Likewise, the NFL could drug test an athlete as many times as they’d like. Many NFL players indicated that they were tested multiple times despite passing the drug test.

Jets running back Le’Veon Bell claims to have been drug tested five times in a 10-week window. Eric Reid also felt the NFL was targeting him during the 2018 season when they drug tested him multiple times.

The most common criticism of the old CBA was its zero tolerance for marijuana. Despite growing appeal for the use of medical and recreational marijuana, the NFL was adamant against its use. Players like Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant received drastic penalties for marijuana use during the season.

Despite being a far less dangerous drug, marijuana was viewed on equal grounds of performance enhancers and harder drugs, like cocaine.

The NFL’s new CBA drug-testing policy

The NFL is no longer testing for marijuana under the new CBA policy. This means there will be no penalty for testing positive for marijuana. The new policy focuses on substance abuse treatment rather the punishment. The new policy is more lenient than the old CBA. However, it includes harsher performance-enhancing drug policies, according to Pro Football Rumors.

One positive drug test results in placement into a stage-two substance abuse program. A second positive drug test results in a fine equal to two-game checks.  Four positive tests equal to three game checks. It now takes seven drug infractions to be banned for the entire season. However, players can face suspension for not adhering to the testing procedure. 

The drug test window was also shortened to two weeks during the training camp. This shortened window allows players to focus more on the NFL season rather than worrying about random drug tests. The NFL has made it clear under the new CBA that they are being more progressive with their substance abuse policies. However, this opens the door for past violators to return to the field in 2020.  It will be interesting to see the impact the new CBA will have on the league for the next decade.