(note: I wrote this article a couple of years ago for an English Class I did. The World Anti-Doping Agency has come out and said that the NBA's drug testing policy is insufficient. Figured I'd share this with you guys).
The National Basketball Association is one of the four major sports in America, with the other three being Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Football League. All four sports (as well as other sports not in that list) have had to deal with an era of performance enhancing drugs (PED). While Major League Baseball and the National Football League have been coming down harder on the use of banned substances for performance enhancement, the NBA has remained idle in hoping that the topic of PEDs would simply vanish from the table all together. The NBA’s current testing policy for PEDs is pretty weak. The current policy, which was established in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, is that players get four random tests during the year and one during the off-season. This is certainly a better policy than the one that was implemented in the 1999 collective bargaining agreement where only rookies were subject to these tests, and the rest of the players only faced one test a year during training camp, and then they were in the clear. The only exception under the old policy was if a player was “suspect” of doping, which is too vague, and not aggressive enough.
Despite being more aggressive and proactive, the current policy still has flaws. There are three key things that this policy lacks: sufficient punishment, emphasis/priority, and thorough testing. These three issues hold the NBA back from having a legitimate drug-testing program that can be taken seriously. As it stands, the current NBA drug testing policy is in “no mans land”. On paper they do have a drug testing policy, which is enough to get the public eye off their backs, but not enough to actually stop and prevent the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Regarding punishment, first time offenders for PED use only get 10 games of suspension, as in the case of Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic, who got a 10 game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone. 10 games is a slap on the wrist in comparison to the 50 game suspension of MLB and the 4 game suspension that the NFL kicks out. They need to amp up the games that a player would be suspended if he in fact got caught. Let’s be real. 10 games are roughly 12% of the NBA season. That is nothing! These guys don’t have to feel like they are taking much of a risk if they haven’t gotten caught yet because getting caught doesn’t really hurt you all that much! It isn’t like Baseball where 50 games is 30% of your season, and where in the NFL four games is 25 % of the season!
It is also apparent, that the issue of PEDs is not a priority or concern of the NBA. David Stern, the commissioner said about the matter in a report by Marc Stein of ESPN “ It’s not a problem we think we have”. The quote was in direct relation to steroids, which is the poster-child of performance enhancing drugs. I don’t know what on earth David Stern was thinking when he said this! Hopefully he was just being naïve! The reality whether he likes it or not is that the NBA does have a PED problem or at the very least, reason to be concerned about it. The evidence is about as clear as the evidence in baseball from a physical observation perspective. Look how big Shaquille O’Neal’s arms got! Look how ripped Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Kobe Bryant are! Rashard Lewis gets busted for drugs, and the rest of these guys are clean?! I don’t think so. The fact that nobody in the NBA except idiots like Rashard Lewis gets busted means that the NBA isn’t really testing for PEDs.
If David Stern doesn’t make it a priority, and says these kinds of comments, then what does that say about the rest of his league officials who are supposed to police it? It means that they aren’t being pressured to really check for illegal substances.
Now I will defend David Stern for just one moment, by explaining the logic of why his sport doesn’t have to worry about steroids, HGH, and other drugs. Stern, as well as others in the NBA, says that drugs that are used to enhance strength like Steroids and HGH aren’t useful in basketball like they are in football and baseball from a power perspective. Other sports like running, cycling, etc. need PEDs for long endurance that basketball players don’t really need. Marc Stein also interviewed NBA player Shane Battier who said about NBA players using PEDs to get stronger “Something you've got to understand is that basketball players just don't like to lift weights. Most of us would rather be out playing ball. We all grew up either on the playground or in the gym. If we're going to spend time working on our game, we're going to be on the court."
Tony Massenburg, another former NBA player stated the same thing, along with Grant Hill, who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Former Stanford all-star and NBA player Mark Madsen wrote on his blog about the matter “I've made a very long list of mistakes and blunders in my own life large and small. Taking HGH, steroids, or any other type of Performance Enhancing drug, is not one of them. I had one interaction directly with this issue where someone asked me if "I had every considered using 'the growth hormone.'" Was this a direct offer? It probably was given the background and the situation, thought I'll never really know for sure. This interaction took place in the summer of 2000 after my Stanford playing days were over and before I joined the Lakers. I mentioned to the individual that I had no interest, and that was it. I've never ever seen it since in all of my NBA days nor is there any concrete evidence or whispers among the players that this has been or is a major problem.”
The center of their logic is that steroids and HGH won’t help you because getting bulkier will slow you down, and that NBA players hate to weight lift, and have other priorities. The logic behind other PEDs is that they won’t help you with the kind of endurance that runners, sprinters, and other endurance athletes need. Basketball being a more stop and go sport doesn’t need the kind of PEDs that those guys need. By eliminating all the things that basketball players don’t need from PEDs the NBA hopes that you can put it all aside and on the back burner.
But the reality is, that Basketball players are getting bigger, they do want to get stronger, and they are getting stronger. I don’t care who you are, strength helps in any sport, whether it’s lacrosse, swimming, or basketball. To say that basketball players don’t lift weights is ridiculous. Of course they do. These guys are a hybrid of basketball players and semi-body builders at the same time. Does the NBA really expect us to be so naive to think that certain players and certain stars don’t apply a little bit of steroids or HGH on their body to get stronger? The reality is that they probably do. Point blank. But, I can’t prove it for sure because nobody is getting “caught”.
This is the same problem that baseball has had. Suspicious players not getting caught and getting off scotch free because the testing is a joke. The fact that no NBA players are testing positive for any PEDs to me personally states that the NBA obviously has a really soft stance and attack on PEDs. If they were really passionate about keeping their sport clean, they wouldn’t have any problem with really jacking up the testing, and ratting out a few stars who are using them. If they started to test stringently, the NBA would be catching a whole bunch of players! But they aren’t catching anybody, which means that they aren’t testing that intensely. Occasionally guys like Rashard Lewis get busted, but that is always rare. The vast bulk of the players know how to easily fly under the radar and not get detected.
On a side note, another reason why the NBA isn’t particular about its policy for PEDs is because they’ve had bigger fish to fry with the officiating scandal that was opened like a can of worms thanks to Tim Donaghy. Tim Donaghy officiated for many moons in the NBA and betted on games that he officiated, and fixed the scores to cover the spread of he and his bookie buddies. With all that going down, David Stern has had his eyes on cleaning up the image of his refs, and making sure that the public has confidence in the integrity of its officials, which to me is a much bigger issue.
When the media thinks about MLB in a negative light, they think steroids. When the media thinks negatively about the NBA they think poor officials who cheat. That is the reality. Baseball has had to fight the steroid the battle, and the NBA has had to fight the officiating battle, and leave aside the PEDs for another day. The thought of busting players for taking PEDs and also having to bust refs for rigging games is too much for the NBA to handle at one time.
But the NBA doesn’t want to appear as though they don’t care about PEDs, and so they have set a policy up in place that “appears” like they really test hard for it, when in reality, they don’t. It’s time for the NBA to step up and either really come down on it, and eliminate it from their sport, or have no policy at all. Maybe just let everybody do what they want, and believe in good faith that nobody is taking them (which is their claim anyway). So, if they feel like PEDs really doesn’t belong in basketball, then they should police it a lot harder. But if they feel like it isn’t really an issue, then they should just let it go, and not worry about it. But having this iffy policy that is standing in “No Man’s Land” is absurd.
This leads me to the third key thing that I mentioned above, which is that they don’t test for everything that is banned. The NBA is much harder on steroids, but their policy on HGH is literally non-existent! The NBA as of right now doesn’t test for HGH because the NBA Players Union doesn’t want to do the blood tests that would spot HGH. So even though they look tough through doing four “random” tests per year, they really can’t be doing any good, if everybody is off steroids and on to HGH anyway. Ezine articles reports “Human growth hormone supplements have been found to produce stunning reversal of the aging process and results from several important studies showed that those who took HGH supplements experienced an 84% improvement in their energy level; 75% improvement in their sexual potency and 88% improvement in muscle strength when combined with a daily exercise program.”
If the NBA isn’t even testing for it, than why not use it if you are a NBA player who wants to get stronger and doesn’t want to lift a ton of weights? The benefits of HGH are as good as steroids, and since the NBA doesn’t test for it, players can use it rampantly and nobody will know! With that being the case, the NBA really doesn’t have all that hard of a drug testing policy!
They’re trying to appeal to both the players who don’t want stringent testing, and the fans/media who want to make sure it’s being policed. You can’t have it both ways. You have to either stomp it out, and be sniffing blood, and actually catch the players who do it because you really hate the thought of steroids being used, or you have to let it go and admit that you really don’t care if they are used. But being in this middle ground where you care enough about it to set up a measly little plan to stop PEDs, but not enough to actually get it to work and stomp it out of your sport is ridiculous and fraudulent.
They have to know that we can see that the NBA players are getting more athletic and it has to be partly because of PEDs. The NBA is caught in this ugly web where they feel like society is pressuring them to have a drug testing policy that they really don’t want to police. It’s there in the rulebook, but it can’t possibly get all that enforced. This comes from the top. The top (David Stern) has spoken, and said it’s not a concern or a problem. With that being said, it means that the bottom isn’t doing its job to police the drug problem. They are halfway up the building in an elevator right now. Where they are right now isn’t the right destination. Going up the elevator means having to really come down hard on a whole bunch of athletes, which isn’t fun to do. Going down the elevator means that they abandon all policy and just trust in their players to be honest or simply allow it to be apart of the game, but believe that their players won’t take drugs because they won’t gain from the use of the drugs. Those are their two options.
I would finally conclude with what I personally think the NBA should do about the drug issue. They need to test for everything at least 4 times a year and make it random. They need to do the blood testing for HGH, and also the tests for steroids as well as other drugs. The NFL and MLB are tightening up their programs, and it’s time that the NBA does as well. As long as the NBA does not test for HGH, then they really aren’t where they are supposed to be. Right now, all they have is a program that tests for only some of the stuff that they should be testing for. They need to get on board and test for HGH and get this stuff cracked down on, and actually show that they want to stomp out PED use. But as of right now, they are standing in “No Man’s Land” with a policy that gets the critics off their back, and that’s it!
Reflection: As a Quick reflection on this topic, I learned a lot about the state of the NBA's PED policy, and was able to gain an opinion on it based off of my observations. It was really cool in my mind to be able to research a social issue that mattered to me and learn enough about it to be able to talk to others about it on a regular basis. It was really fun and exciting to do.