Apart from the numerous and ongoing breaches of confidentiality plaguing the Von Miller case (unless Von Miller’s camp is confidentially leaking details regarding the case), the NFL has a problem with its substance-abuse policy.
Per a league source, the NFL is nervous about potential flaws with the manner in which Miller’s sample was collected. The anxiety and/or uncertainty possibly has contributed to the delay in taking the case to a hearing. Currently, Miller and the league reportedly are negotiating a resolution that could drop the proposed six-game suspension down to four games.
The proposed six-game suspension reportedly is fueled by a spilled sample and, separately, a diluted sample. While samples can be diluted via pre-test ingestion of certain substances, it also can be diluted by adding substances to the sample cup. Spilled samples in theory can happen under even the strictest adherence to the testing protocol; however, it’s impossible to assess Miller’s case without considering other recent situations involving the collection process.
Last year, former Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive end Ryan McBean filed a lawsuit challenging their six-game suspensions. They pointed to “fatal issues concerning the collection process,” noting that the specimen collector eventually was fired by the NFL for failure “to fulfill his duties and obligations as a specimen collector in material manners.”
Later in 2012, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman secured a reversal of a suspension because the sample collector allowed Sherman to transfer the contents of a leaking cup to a second cup, which the collector failed to mention in his official report.
“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,” hearing officer Bob Wallace wrote in his decision regarding Sherman’s case.
In Miller’s case, no specific wrongdoing or failure has been alleged or reported regarding the sample collector. Still, the situation is shining a light once again on the process of physically collecting urine specimens and properly transferring them to the lab for testing.
The persons who collect the samples operate largely in anonymity. After the Onterrio Smith Whizzinator debacle, the process changed to require direct observation of the providing of the sample. Over the years, however, we’ve heard from time to time accounts of sample collectors who don’t insist on actually watching the cup get filled. (Indeed, how did D.J. Williams allegedly provided a “non-human urine” sample if the collector was actually watching the urine flow from a human?)
With multiple cases in the past year or so pointing to problems with the collection process, fair questions should be raised about the qualifications and the integrity of the persons charged with harvesting urine samples. What are their qualifications? How are they trained? How are they supervised? How much are they compensated?
In theory, abuses could be rampant. Considering the financial stakes of a positive test, who’s to say a sample collector hasn’t been offered an envelope containing something other than a birthday card in order to ensure that the sample sent to the lab will be deemed clean?
We’re speculating on that point, but with little known about the collection process and with multiple instances of alleged irregularities, the NFL should be worried not only about the accuracy of the program but also the possibility of affirmative corruption.
With the HGH testing issue still not resolved and with all other issues regarding the league’s drug-testing policies still open because of it, this would be a perfect time for the NFLPA to ensure that steps are taken to protect players against negligent and/or intentional misconduct from the so-called piss men. Given the consequences and stigma of a failed test, the league and the union should apply the same rigid standards to the collection process that are applied to the men who are giving the samples.