When following the recent headlines in the NFL, one that caught my attention involved a player facing a lengthy suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. I found myself looking deeper into the story because the player involved happened to be part of the starting secondary for my favourite team — Brandon Browner, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. Browner is currently facing a one-year suspension, however, one CBS writer points out that the results of his impending appeal could be detrimental for the league and lead to significant changes to their current drug policy.
The reason Browner is facing a one-year suspension compared to the usual 4-week ban is because the NFL advanced him to “Stage 3” of the league’s drug program as a result of missing a series of drug test during the 2006 and 2007 season. During this time Browner wasn’t even in the NFL, after being released by the Denver Broncos — he was currently a member of the CFL’s Calgary Stampede, helping the team win the 2006 Grey Cup. Browner never received any letter of notification from the NFL regarding his advancement in the drug program. It wasn’t until August 2011, months after he rejoined the NFL, that he was notified of his position in the program. This knowledge wasn’t even provided to the Seattle Seahawks prior to his signing, as well as the other teams who offered Browner a tryout.
According to Browner’s lawyers, there is a good chance he will be successful in his appeal, based on how he should be deemed ineligible for the “Continued Participation” section of the NFL/NFLPA’s drug policy. In this section of the policy, players who have not been on a club roster for six consecutive games should be considered a “never-rostered player”. Browner could argue that he should be considered a never-rostered player, since he was only ever on the Bronco’s “Injured Reserve” list. Those who are considered a never-rostered player aren’t required to comply with the conditions of the drug program.
When reflecting on this situation, it is evident that the NFL needs to refine certain aspects of their substance-abuse policy in order to avoid potential lawsuits from other players who have experienced a similar set of circumstances. Specifically, the league needs to improve how they handle a player’s drug status once they have been terminated from an NFL club, looking to change the way in which players are notified about their status in the program and any future testing requirements.