Earlier today, reports emerged that the NFL has suspended Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom four games for violating the league’s steroids policy.
Odom’s attorney, David Cornwell, has issued a statement explaining the situation. Here it is:
“The decision to suspend Antwan Odom for four games highlights the need for the NFL and the NFLPA to fix the NFL’s disciplinary programs.
“Antwan did not take a steroid or any other performance enhancing substance. While driving after midnight from Alabama to Cincinnati to report to training camp, Antwan’s wife mistakenly opened her prescription pill bottle instead of Antwan’s and gave him one of her prescription weight loss pills instead of Antwan’s medicine. Naturally, Antwan’s preseason urine test was positive for his wife’s medicine.
“The NFL did not dispute the facts in this case and accepted the Cincinnati Bengals’ weight records showing that Antwan’s target reporting weight was 275 lbs. and that he actually reported at 255 lbs., confirming that Antwan had no reason to take a weight loss medicine. The steroid program’s administrator, Dr. John Lombardo, testified that no competitive advantage was gained by this mistake and that no physical difference would be apparent to Antwan from taking his wife’s medicine as opposed to his own. Harold Henderson, the hearing officer designated by Commissioner Goodell to hear Antwan’s appeal, found [credible and convincing evidence that Mr. Odom inadvertently took medicine prescribed for his wife.’ Yet, Mr. Henderson concluded that as ‘sympathetic as this case may be’ and though a four game suspension may be ‘unfairly harsh,’ he lacked the authority to alter the discipline.
“While the NFL and the NFLPA maneuver for upcoming collective bargaining negotiations, Antwan’s case is a stark reminder that the issues they will consider impact men’s lives. The strict liability rule in the steroid program enabled the NFL’s lawyers to argue that the facts did not matter in Antwan’s case. Tell that to Antwan and his wife, Brooke, the Bengals and their fans, and to any fair-minded person who recognizes that as legitimate as the objectives of the NFL’s steroid program may be, none of these objectives is served by Antwan’s suspension.”
And here’s our statement in response to Cornwell’s explanation: It doesn’t matter.
Though Odom may be telling the complete truth, anyone who takes a banned substance can cook up a similar story and trot it out whenever the drug test comes back positive. Indeed, there’s something about this explanation that seems a little too convenient and contrived. Pill mixup while driving a car? And who takes pills while driving a car?
Players have an absolute obligation to police every substance they ingest. If a player is going to transport medication in a glove box or purse or bag that contains another medication that isn’t his, he needs to know whether the other medication constitutes a banned substance — and if it is he needs to make sure his wife doesn’t accidentally hand him the wrong pill while he’s working the wheel.
As to why Odom would be taking a weight-loss drug when he’s 20 pounds under his target weight, diuretics are often used to mask steroid use.
The other problem here is that the NFL, due to the current language of the drug policies, can say nothing in response to the explanation. The player or his lawyer can say whatever the player or the lawyer want to say, and the NFL and the NFLPA can provide no contrary evidence.
As a result, the public continues to be under the impression that every guy who ever has tested positive for a banned substance either accidentally took the banned substance, ingested a supplement tainted with the banned substance, or is suffering from some exotic medical condition that caused evidence of the banned substance to organically appear in his body. The other logical impression is that the policy never has successfully ensnared a cheater.
So, yes, the policy needs to change. And the first revision need to be the abandonment of blanket confidentiality. Once the suspension is final, the NFL should publish all of the relevant facts supporting the suspension.