Antonio Gates, tight end for the San Diego Chargers, was just suspended for four games in 2015 for taking performance enhancing drugs. That’s all anyone outside of the league office and the Chargers’ locker room knows.
Under the current rules, the NFL does not have to tell anyone exactly what substances were taken. And that needs to change.
The problem is that keeping it a secret leads to rampant speculation. People are already complaining that Gates is getting as many games as Tom Brady—appeal pending—without actually knowing what Gates did to deserve it. Others are already talking about him using steroids as if it is a fact.
In the past, a lot of players have said they took drugs like Adderall, and perhaps they were being 100 percent honest. Maybe they just took it so they could be more focused. Adderall is on the banned list, after all, and it would result in a four-game suspension.
But, in the wake of those suspensions, speculation ran wild. Many people said—without any proof, of course—that players only said they took Adderall because it was the most socially acceptable drug on the list. They were, these people claimed, actually taking steroids. They just knew that saying they took steroids would get them in hot water with fans and they’d be labeled cheaters, but saying they took Adderall generally led fans to shrug it off.
The people saying this aren’t in positions of authority or power. They’re just fans. It’s just people talking. But that kind of thing was all over social media, with fans of the players defending them and fans of other teams calling them out. The same thing is happening to Gates right now.
The players are allowed to say whatever they want. They can put out statements that are completely fictitious, and the NFL just has to sit back and let it happen.
Gates said—and I’m by no means saying he’s lying, as I have no way of knowing—that he didn’t even know he took a banned substance. This is a refrain we’ve heard from other athletes, and one that has broken down in some cases when it was revealed that they knew exactly what they were doing. Again, Gates could be telling the truth and nothing but the truth, but not everyone is going to believe him, because we’ve seen this movie before.
It’s also a little implausible that players wouldn’t know if what they were taking was on the banned list. Especially players who have been in the league for over a decade, who have gone through testing again and again, and who know the stakes.
If they’re taking anything, wouldn’t they really be careful, reading the ingredients and making sure it would pass the tests? For some of these players, it’s a multi-million dollar decision, as those four games are without pay.
If I’m risking millions, I’m not taking anyone’s word for anything. The trainer can tell me the substance is fine, but I’m still checking it out myself, extensively, before I’m taking it.
The NFL could kill all of this speculation in one shot, and the players should actually be behind it. Originally, the secrecy was looked at as a way to protect the players, but now it’s detrimental. No one believes that they don’t know what they’re taking or that they’re taking Adderall. Everyone just collectively thinks: Well, must have been steroids.
Players don’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore. Fans have seen far too many suspensions and far too much PED use. It’s often assumed that a player is most often lying and that those telling the truth are the outliers, not the other way around.
It’s unfair. Because Gates could be telling the complete truth, having made an honest mistake. But a good portion of NFL fans are going to brand him a steroid user at this point, no matter what he says, because the NFL can’t officially back him up. And that’s a shame.