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The NFL’s Drug Problem Rears Its Ugly Head, Again

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According to news reports eight NFL players have tested positive for banned substances under the league’s steroid policy, and four of these failed tests involve a diuretic called Bumantanide. The cover story being floated by the players alleged to have failed the drug tests is that the diuretic, or “water pill,” was being used as a weight loss supplement, and news accounts report that this drug enables people to lose weight.

This is nonsense.

Bumantanide is a diuretic that is used by people suffering from edema as a result of heart failure, liver disease, and high blood pressure. This is a potent drug that needs to be taken under strict medical supervision. The weight loss that occurs from taking this medication is water weight that is caused by a person’s diseased condition, and is thus not a weight-loss supplement in the truest sense of the word. Frankly, to assert that anyone would take this drug simply for weight loss, as if it were a matter of losing a few pounds, is an insult to our collective intelligence.

As the NFL attempts to come to grips with yet another spate of failed drug tests, expect loads of misinformation and disinformation as this story develops. Don’t be fooled by the weight-loss cover story that is being fed by the league and regurgitated by the media, and don’t be duped into thinking that elite athletes took this drug innocently.

Diuretics are used as a masking agent — a drug that masks the use of another, usually elicit drug — to help a drug user avoid failing a urine test. Simply put, diuretics produce an increase in the volume of urine and as a result hide traces of illegal drugs. The problem is that an athlete can get busted for using this category of drugs when there is no valid reason for them to have it in their system. In the case of Bumantanide, it is ludicrous to assert that a professional athlete would need to take this drug for weight-loss purposes.

The NFL has a huge problem on its hands whether or not any sports journalists care to really report on the matter. For the past several years there have been plenty of signs that the NFL has an out-of-control performance-inhancing drug problem. Erratic on- and off-field behavior, instances of infections, certain kinds of injuries, failed drug tests, suspensions, and drug use have become commonplace over the past three decades, with both big-name players and bench-warmers from every team and at every position being caught for being drug cheats.

On top of the failed drug tests there’s the issue of growing and faster professional football players. Guys are getting bigger, quicker and stronger every year. Some experts, like Dr. Charles Yessalis of Penn State University feel that the problem of PED use starts at the college level and that what we know about PED usemis just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past 25 years the average size of NFL linemen has increased by 90 pounds, and Dr. Yessalis and others — myself included — are of the opinion that off-the-field training, nutrition and legal modes of supplementation cannot be given credit for the ever growing NCAA and NFL players.

When you look at the totality of events, the infections, the bizarre conduct, and the failed drug tests, it’s hard to make a case that the league doesn’t have a bigger PED problem than Major League Baseball. The fact that the public may not care isn’t the issue and doesn’t change the facts and indications that the NFL is sitting on a powder keg.

The BALCO Laboratory scandal served as notice that there was a coordinated doping effort at the highest levels of sport and kicked off the era that blew baseball’s cover with regard to steroid use. As this “Diuretic-gate” story develops, the NFL could be facing their BALCO moment.

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About Sal Marinello