When in doubt, blame Adderall.
It doesn't carry the baggage of steroids, HGH or even illicit painkillers.
Jermaine Cunningham is the latest to hop on board the Adderall bandwagon after word came out about his suspension for four games without pay for violation of the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
A league source told the Globe's Greg Bedard that Cunningham tested positive for Adderall, which like Ritalin is often prescribed to individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Why pick Adderall as the banned substance of choice? Drugs like it are widely used for common medical and behavioral problems, especially in children. There are some of us who take steroids every day to survive, but most folks aren't aware of their positive effects. Adderall and drugs like it are different. "Hey," Football Mom says, "My kid takes that so he can concentrate in math class. Why are they banning him for that?" So even if the positive was for something more sinister - or politically incorrect - using Adderall as a crutch is much more publicly acceptable.
The common football excuse for the use of Adderall is because it supposedly provides players with tunnel vision and focus.
Unless Cunningham decides to fess up, we'll never know for sure what substance triggered the positive test in his case since the league's policy is for silence on these issues. Players are given a letter detailing their positive test and the evidence that cause it. But they are not forced to disclose any of the details. So there's no way for sure to determine if the positive was for Adderall, HGH, steroids or even that estrogen that Manny Ramirez used as a masking agent.
The unofficial count makes Cunningham the 26th player suspended by the league since the start of the 2012 season for violations of the PED policy and at least six of those players - including Richard "U Mad Bro" Sherman of the Seahawks and Aqib Talib of the Patriots - have blamed Adderall. Patriots running back Brandon Bolden is serving a four-game suspension for an unnamed PED violation. New England linebacker Brandon Spikes of the Patriots was flagged for a PED violation two years ago when he was a rookie.
Sherman's excuse was beyond the "dog ate my homework." In his case, it was reported he claimed that he inadvertently drank from a bottle belonging to a teammate that contained a crushed Adderall pill. The unnamed teammate had a prescription for the drug. Sherman has since denied that account. He had no answer to this:
Players who take Adderall - or any other banned substance - using a prescription are allowed to do so if they follow proper procedure and paperwork. They face immediate suspension if they fail to do so and test positive. Former Patriots running back Heath Evans took Adderall and Ritalin via prescription to help him deal with learning disorders and detailed the procedure during a recent appearance on WEEI's "Mut and Merloni" show. Evans said Adderall "doesn't make you some monster" like other steroids might and filled out the appropriate paperwork so the league would not object. "It's a hassle to file all that paperwork, but it's very, very simple," Evans said. "So, with the Adderall and the Ritalin, if the players get busted for that stuff, they're just stupid. You know what? It's their fault, they should be suspended for four games just for being dumb. Not for taking Ritalin or Adderall - you're suspended for four weeks because you're an idiot."
The positive test for Cunningham and his fellow Patriots leave fans and others wondering when the next needle will drop. Will Tom Brady test positive for Tiger Blood? How about Vince Wilfork pulling a positive for extra Tryptophan after demolishing that turkey on NBC after Thursday night's win over the Jets? No doubt Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are overloaded on God-given testosterone given their ability to take a beating.
The NFL's testing policy is so simple even Sherman could understand it. Players are tested before signing a free-agent or rookie contract, they are subject to testing six times in the offseason and 10 randomly-selected players on each team are subject to random testing during the regular season and playoffs, with players tested on game days. That doesn't include players who are tested because of previous drug-related issues. So there's a reasonable chance you'll be tested at random and a 100 percent chance you'll be tested if you've been in trouble before.
So why do it? That answer is obvious - players are always looking for edge. The desperation to make the pros that marginal types like Cunningham and Bolden feel makes the lure of PEDs too tempting, same with Spikes when he was a rookie. Technically, they're all cheaters. The Adderall excuse makes them more foolish than evil. Not all PED suspensions are created equal in the mind of the public.
These are desperate times across the board - not just in the NFL. The heightened violence of Thursday night's game between the Patriots and Jets - with bone-crushing hit after ass-ramming hit - was matched with the mayhem and ferocity of shoppers beating each other up over deals at Wal-Mart on "Black Friday." The wide-world of sports also is full of cheaters - Lance Armstrong, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, the Chinese Olympic team.
These drug suspensions are so much the new Patriot Way as much as they are the new American Way. The quest for shortcuts and quick-answers is never ending. Lose weight fast. Earn easy money at home. Want to win the $500 million Powerball jackpot Wednesday night - click here. People cut corners on their taxes, skirt the rules at work, or hire political operatives with seven accidents and 34 entries on their driving record to run the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division.
Football players are no better or worse. The issue for the NFL and its fans is does the league have a serious drug problem now? Or are things no different than they were in the days of "North Dallas Forty" and Lyle Alzado, it's just that the testing is a lot better and more widespread? Suppose the NFL could follow the lead of the voters in Colorado and Washington state, who went miles toward eliminating their states' drug problems by simply legalizing marijuana. For public relations purposes, it would be preferable in our PC culture to have an NFL team free of players with drug suspensions, arrest records or child-support problems. But that's unrealistic, as if would be for any workplace to be only inhabited by choir boys and vestal virgins. The "Patriots" brand is taking a beating but it's nothing that a fourth Lombardi Trophy won't cure.
Cunningham and Spikes attended the University of Florida, where the original liquid performance-enhancing substance - Gatorade - was invented by Dr. Robert Cade back in 1965. They might have an natural affinity for this kind of thing. One thing is certain, if those ex-Gators took and managed to pass CHM 1025, they probably would have figured out a way to avoid getting a positive read on whatever PED it was they were using.
The Hoodie, in all his verbosity, simply called Cunningham's suspension "unfortunate" and then passed it off as a "league discipline matter" saying the team's drug woes "are what they are." Something tells us that Cunningham, Talib (who was acquired by the Patriots while serving his drug suspension), Bolden or any other player suspended for a PED violation will have a place on the Patriots as long they remain productive on the field. The Patriots' drug issues have given their haters more fuel to add onto the "SpyGate" legend. If they manage to win that elusive fourth Super Bowl in New Orleans this February, the same buffoons who were posting tweets about "Belicheat" during Thursday's evisceration of the Jets will no doubt chime in with shots about how the Patriots need an asterisk for all that Adderall.
That's one asterisk we'll live with, even if we have to chase it down with a little humility on the side.
Don't miss the return of our weekly NFL Power Rankings Saturday as we take a special look at the beloved New York Jets and offer our ode to Fireman Ed. And join us Sunday at 1 p.m. for our in-game Patriots-Dolphins fan chat. Dolphins fans can get a deal on anti-depressants at any South Florida pain clinic. As always, let us know what you think. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page or e-mail me email@example.com. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @realOBF.
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