The Seattle Seahawks have one of the most talented rosters in the National Football League, led by a blossoming franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson.
With the addition of frontline players in free agency, such as Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield, Seattle is considered one of the frontrunners to win the next Super Bowl.
However, the Seahawks also lead the NFL in a more-troubling statistic — suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs.
The Seahawks have had a head-scratching six players suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs during Pete Carroll’s tenure — the most by any NFL team during that span.
That disturbing statistic has created the perception nationally that Carroll is running an outlaw program that plays outside the rules, reminiscent of his decade-long dominance while at USC, which ended with the school landing on NCAA probation.
For his part, Carroll said he and the organization are committed to doing the right thing.
“This is a challenge,” Carroll said. “It’s a challenge for us, and it’s a challenge for the league. The league is doing everything they can to help guys make it through these young careers that they have. And we are too.”
And galvanized by the growing national stigma, the Seahawks are working to dispel the notion that their players are actively trying to cheat.
“Obviously this is an issue that we take very seriously,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “The league has done a very good job of educating the players. And we feel like we have gone above and beyond educating players on performance-enhancing drugs, as well as trying to help them out with whatever we can do with improving their basic life skills.
“You want guys to have skills that they can take with them for the rest of their life. We’re one of the youngest teams in the league. And these are young men still trying to find their way.”
During Carroll’s tenure, Seattle players Vai Taua, John Moffitt, Allen Barbre, Winston Guy, Brandon Browner and Bruce Irvin all ran afoul of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and were suspended for four games.
A seventh player, cornerback Richard Sherman, tested positive for a banned substance, but had his suspension overturned when an appeal demonstrated a chain-of-custody issue occurred during the collection of his urine sample.
Taua and Barbre are no longer with the team.
Most Seattle players who tested positive are in their first or second year in the NFL, which could have contributed to them not fully understanding the league’s drug policy.
However, Michael Robinson, the team’s NFL Players Association union representative, said that his teammates need to be held accountable for their actions.
Robinson and other veteran players recently held a players-only team meeting to address the issue.
“It’s kind of some of the problems you get when you have a really young team, but that’s no excuse,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to win games in this league. We need all 53 available. We can’t lose key pieces and expect to go the places we want to go.”
Added strong safety Kam Chancellor, another veteran who spoke at the meeting: “It is all about being accountable and holding your teammates accountable, and to a higher standard.”
Ray Roberts, a former Seahawks offensive lineman who played nine years in the NFL, thinks the rash of positive tests for Seattle demonstrates a me-first attitude in the players that were suspended.
“To me, it’s a very selfish act on the part of the player to jeopardize the season, or jeopardize the team because of your weakness or insecurity that you feel like you need more to do your job,” Roberts said. “If you’re the top dog, you better have your hands on the heartbeat of the team, because it can wipe out all the momentum and excitement of what they created.”
A SIMPLE PLAN
The Seahawks are using a three-pronged approach to help players address the issue.
Maurice Kelly, a former NFL player, serves as the Seahawks’ senior director of player personnel. Kelly is an advocate for the players, helping them navigate the league’s complex drug and substance policies.
Sam Ramsden, the team director of player health and performance, helps players optimize their performance on the field by focusing on their nutrition, sleep patterns and biomechanics.
The Seahawks also have retained the services of Dirk Eldredge, a life skills consultant specializing in substance abuse and relationship issues who worked with Carroll during his coaching days at USC.
Along with these three resources, Seattle has included league information about PEDs, including the list of banned substances, on players’ iPads that house the team playbooks.
Players are tested several times throughout the year. According to league policy, players are randomly tested every single week during the season, including the postseason if Seattle still is playing. Players also are eligible to be tested up to six times during the offseason.
Discipline for positive drug tests is significant. A first-time positive test results costs a four-game suspension, which is doubled to eight games with a second positive test.
A third positive test can lead to a 12-month ban, and the player would need approval of the commissioner to re-enter the NFL.
Another twist in following player violations is that the league — and therefore teams — may not disclose the substance a player tests positive for, leading to media speculation.
A player, or his agent, may disclose the substance resulting in a positive test, but that will not be confirmed by the league, allowing a player the discretion to admit to testing positive for a drug society might frown less upon.
Major League Baseball has a drug policy in place that allows the league to disclose the substance a player tests positive for.
“In our view it undermines the policy itself when misrepresentations can be made without them being corrected,” said Adolpho Birch, NFL senior vice president of law and labor policy, at the NFL scouting combine in February. “Because we have to make sure that those who have interest in our game understand what the policy did, what the actors of the policy did or what the testing found — things that restore the confidence in how this policy is being put together and how the people that are responsible for administering it are performing their duty.”
However, Robinson disagrees, pointing to Sherman’s positive test for Adderall leaked to the media before his appeal was heard by the NFL as a reason players should have privacy on the issue.
“In my opinion I do not think you should let people know what guys test for,” Robinson said. “It’s the business of the player, and I don’t think he should be exposed like that.”
Unconfirmed reports say most Seattle players have tested positive for the amphetamine-like substance Adderall, a stimulant commonly used by patients diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to improve focus.
Dr. David Ferguson, professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota, says there’s no doubt Adderall or any other amphetamine-type substance is a PED.
Ferguson teaches a popular course called DOA (Drugs of Abuse) at Minnesota.
“These players are getting a stimulant effect out of it that gives them energy, plus this confidence,” Ferguson said. “It’s this reward where, ‘I’m doing great. I’m focused. And I’m very, very confident and secure in what I’m doing.’ If folks don’t think they load up, and you get enhancement from increased concentrations of these kinds of drugs, caffeine included, they’re wrong. They’re crazy. They’re fools.
“We all have a few cups of coffee. And when we’re tired, we have an extra one. These amphetamines are no different”
Along with increasing energy and focus, Ferguson said, substances like Adderall have become popular on college campuses among students and athletes because they are easy to obtain, and easy to get out of a person’s system in a relatively short time.
“We know for a fact in general on a college campus today, the availability of Ritalin or Adderall is extremely high,” Ferguson said.
“It’s a younger problem that has really taken off, and it’s shared among college students when they have to cram for tests. And I think it’s sort of dribbled over to sports.”
Ferguson said the half-life for Adderall and similar substances is about 10 hours, so a player who was just tested could take the drug as a game-day enhancer, and by 24 hours the levels in his body would drop to the point where he would not test positive for the drug.
“Dilution is the solution,” Ferguson said. “You just chug a gallon of water. And the dilution is high enough, especially if they are using urine (samples), dilution is really effective.”
Ferguson says Adderall is a drug that can be dangerous because of its addictive qualities.
“There’s just not an alarm over this,” Ferguson said. “It’s like, ‘Ah, it’s just a drug that helps them focus. What’s the big deal?’ It’s an amphetamine. It’s a stimulant.”
Ferguson says that if abused, Adderall and other amphetamine-type substances can lead to an elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and other long-term health issues.
“These guys are playing with fire,” he said. “They’re throwing gas on it. It’s crazy to me that you would be taking these drugs with normal brain chemistry, and not expecting to have some kind of dependency grow.”
Whether or not players are willing to take a calculated risk like taking Adderall, Robinson said it ultimately comes down to his teammates being held accountable for their actions.
“I don’t know why it’s all pointed toward Pete,” Robinson said. “He can’t be around players 24-7. He does a great job creating an environment where guys have fun playing football. We’re all grown men. At some point it comes down to players making the correct decisions on and off the field.”Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 eric.williams@ thenewstribune.com