In appealing his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy regarding anabolic steroids and related substances, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman raised multiple issues regarding the sample collection and testing process.
Ultimately, one specific flaw helped him avoid the suspension.
The four-page ruling from hearing officer Bob Wallace, a copy of which has been obtained and posted by the folks at KJR radio, explains that the cup given to Sherman by sample collector Mark Cook was leaking. Though portions of their stories conflicted, both Sherman and Cook agreed that the cup was indeed leaking and that the contents were placed into a second cup. Sherman claimed that Cook transferred the contents of the first cup into a second cup; Cook explained that he gave the new cup to Sherman, and that Sherman transferred the sample.
Cook testified that he had never before encountered a leaking cup. Cook later contradicted himself (according to Wallace), taking the position that the leakage “did not rise to the level of — of it being a big deal and having to include it [in] the report.” Wallace disagreed with Cook’s assessment: “Insuring that the sample is collected properly is the cornerstone of the program and when an event occurs that does not happen routinely or that the collector has never experienced while collecting the sample it is incumbent on the collector to note what happened.”
Consequently, Wallace found that Sherman proved that an error occurred in the collection process, and that the NFL had failed to show that the departures did not materially affect the validity of the positive test result.
The outcome is indeed fairly narrow and specific, given that collection cups rarely leak. When they do, the collector needs to document the incident, transfer the contents to a new, clean cup, and ensure that a clear chain of custody is established. Here, Cook’s failure to include the incident in his report resulted in Sherman’s appeal prevailing.
As to Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who withdrew his appeal and will complete his suspension on Sunday, Sherman’s victory becomes relevant only if Browner had similarly compelling facts. So, in other words, Browner maybe shouldn’t be experiencing regret for choosing not to fight.