Calvin Pace of the New York Jets will be sitting out the first four games of the 2009 season because he violated the National Football League’s policy on doping. Unlike other athletes such as New York Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre (who just completed a 50-game suspension) and swimmer Jessica Hardy, the linebacker did not identify the dietary supplement that cost him those starts.
Nor did he say whether he dialed the league’s little-known supplements hot line. What would the person on the other end of the phone say? How should that individual counsel a person who reportedly signed a six-year, $42 million contract in March 2008? The simple answer would be, “Do not take anything, sir, not even Flintstones vitamins. Why take the risk?”
Pro athletes probably want — and definitely deserve — a better answer. So do consumers, but that is another matter. Yes, we are all accountable for our actions. Pace said as much in a statement released by the team: “This is a situation that resulted from an over-the-counter dietary supplement that contained a substance that I did not know violated the league’s policy. I am responsible for what I put into my body and I should have paid closer attention to the league’s guidelines.”
Having a toll-free hotline (866-635-7877 or e-mail NFLSupp@DrugFreeSport.com) helps when people think the service is good. Last season, a Minnesota Vikings player complained that he never got an answer from the independent company that manages the hot line. Two other Vikings players have claimed that the hot line gave them the wrong information.
Athletes could look up the information themselves. The ProStar Sports Agency has a list of NFL banned substances and companies on its Web site, but it is not clear how often that directory is updated. The bigger problem: Who knows the ingredients in a particular lot of a supplement? It is easy to stay away from the public offenders, but sometimes athletes (and nonathletes) unknowingly ingest tainted products. They do not find out something is wrong until after their drug test results come back. Then the blame game begins. It always ends with the athlete; there must a better way.