Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 May 2013

Bruce Irvin Suspended

Per Adam Schefter et al., the NFL announced today Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin has been suspended for the first four games of the 2013 regular season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy. Hey, Chris Clemons, how's that ACL rehab going? The Seahawks also signed Cliff Avril this offseason.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 17 May 2013

51 comments, Last at 23 May 2013, 1:17pm by Revenge of the NURBS


by Nathan :: Fri, 05/17/2013 - 4:46pm

I can't wait to crow about this too all my friends who are Seahawaks f -- oh wait, nevermind.

In all seriousness, they were having a pretty great offseason until now.

by jimbohead :: Fri, 05/17/2013 - 5:00pm

I know I have niners-fan goggles solidly in place, but at what point does the NFL recognize a program as having a systemic problem with a particular PED? And what could they do about it? Is increased testing for a particular team on a finite-time basis (say 1-2 yrs) allowable under the CBA? It just seems to this homer that after 2 (or 2.5, depending on how you want to figure the Sherman thing) positive results for the same substance in 12 months, you gotta start thinking about this as something systemic.

by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 05/17/2013 - 5:20pm

Actually, Irvin makes it five Seahawks suspended for substance abuse since 2011, not counting Sherman.

by jimbohead :: Fri, 05/17/2013 - 6:02pm

I just read that after posting. Kinda shocking....

by Cro-Mags :: Fri, 05/17/2013 - 10:00pm

I think part of the problem is that we don't know that it's the same substance (do we?), just the players cop to adderal because it's legal with a script so it doesn't carry the stigma of straight roids or HGH or what have you. I'm not really cheating, I'm just taking ADHD meds without having filed the right paperwork.

The NFL seems more hypocritical to me in how they crow about player safety, but when it comes to drug abuse
1. They never say what it was (leaving players open to fabricate whatever narrative suits them).
2. always seem to release the suspension late on a Friday afternoon to avoid the 24 hour cable sports news/radio cycle PR hit.

They're great compared to other sports (especially baseball) of just smoothly skating over drug controversies, and I have to think it's calculated to protect the image (read: marketability). When baseball players juice, it literally becomes a federal case, that goes on and on. NFL players like this cop to some innocuous med, it's released late Friday and nobody bats an eye. Astute PR.

by Dean :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 10:44am

The NFL isn't being hypocritical about it. There's this thing called Doctor-Patient Confidentiality. They're not allowed to say what he tested positive for, even if they wanted.

by AB (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:51pm

That's absolute rubbish. There's plenty of sports where the banned substance is identified.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 10:34am


Ben Johnson couldn't cry "Adderall", they outed him for the cheat he was (not that everyone else in that race wasn't cheating in exactly the same way). Why not football? Everyone knows they are lying through their teeth and there is no reason to hide it. Sweeping stuff under the carpet is only good public relations if no one sees you do it. If everyone sees it they just know that there is a mountain of crap under the carpet.

by Dean :: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 2:02pm

Ben Johnson is also not an American Citizen.

by AB (not verified) :: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 2:44pm

Lance Armstrong is

Justin Gatlin is

Ryan Braun is

Floyd Landis is

Marion Jones is

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 4:23pm

Are people still arguing this point?

The reason the NFL doesn't release the specifics of PED suspensions is that the CBA forbids it. That's it.


Personally, I question why the players would bargain for such a thing. For one, it just looks shady to begin with. And for two, now every player suspended is automatically assumed to have been busted for steroids, and has no real way to ever clear his name.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 7:03pm

It is beyond me that the NFLPA continues to insist on preventing HGH testing and not revealing the cause of failed tests.

Why are they protecting cheats who will keep legal players from earning a living and are more likely to hurt other union members because they're so over sized.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 8:52am

Taking things at face value, it implies that a majority of the NFLPA constituency has a vested interest in preventing HGH testing. That's the only logical reason why the union would not only take that position, but actually be willing to negotiate (i.e. give up other things) to keep the status quo. I read into it that the cheats outnumber the legal players in the union. Not a pleasant thought about my favorite sport, but it is what it is.

As for why they'd want test results kept secret while suspensions are made public, I have no idea. I can only conclude that no one from the union thought through how these things would play out in the court of public opinion. Someone must have thought that keeping the results secret would lead to a presumption of innocence, when the reality is just the opposite.

by AB (not verified) :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 9:17am

The media are complicit in this. How many times is a player reported as having been suspended "taking adderall" rather than "having failed a drug test for what he claims was adderall"?

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 10:06am

Agreed. Florio is the only one I see who consistently points out that the players are free to lie about what they tested positive for.

Another point about Adderall -- the league doesn't even test for Adderall specifically. So it's not even accurate to say that a player tested positive for Adderall. Even if Adderall was the culprit, the most that could be said is that the player tested positive for an undetermined amphetamine.

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 1:35pm

That is tremendously fallacious reasoning. HGH is a test, therefore, we can trust it. The NFLPA is against a test, which we know to be good, therefore they are rotten to the core. This is particularly egregious in the light of the NFLs failing when it comes to just conducting testing, and it's failure to do truly independent testing as it agreed to.

Then there are the problems with the test itself. It's an impressive feat to get it working at any meaningful level, but its usefulness in a real-world setting like the NFL is predicated on two particularly stunning and to my mind irrational assumptions. 1. Extremely gifted athletes drawn from around the world for their strength, size, and agility even though they are 6 sigmas out from the rest of the population produce the hormones in precisely the same ratio as regular joes. 2. The testing process from sample collection to analysis is devoid of unchecked opportunities to meaningfully impact the false positive rate.

To address 1, the NFLPA wants to do a population study on NFL players, which I would think would be worth doing in absence of any test for HGH. To address 2, the NFLPA negotiated for independent testing, which the NFL agreed to but did not do! Either of this assumptions being in error might well increase the false positive rate of the test by orders of magnitude. If the HGH test is so trustworthy and foolproof, it should be easy to prove.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 3:43pm

Assumption 1 could just as easily be stated in objection to testing for steroids and testosterone. Saying that athletes don't produce hormones in "precisely the same ratio" as the general populace misses the point. Regardless of the fact that they're on the very high end of physical ability, they're still humans. When someone tests positive for steroids, it's because their testosterone levels are so high as to be impossible naturally. (Floyd Landis, for example, was 4X normal.) The pass/fail criteria for an HGH test would have to be similar.

If the NFLPA is asking for a population study of NFL players' HGH levels, what would that accomplish? It would essentially be taking the players current state (where HGH is unregulated and there is a general suspicion of rampant use) and establishing that as the baseline. It's like when players say they tank the baseline concussion test on purpose so they can pass it later when they have a concussion.

Assumption 2, again, you could voice that objection to any kind of testing. It has nothing to do with HGH. Independent testing, yeah; if the NFL's not doing that, they need to. But the same would apply to steroids and drugs and any other kind of testing that the NFLPA already has agreed to.

As for your first question, that's a tough one. I'd assume that the HGH levels of both a duck and a tree are really low, probably down in the noise.

by Dean :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 5:03pm

My understanding (and I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm mistaken) is that the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to testing for HGH and the methodology is consistent with what WADA has been using since the late 90s and includes independent physicians.

Between this and DeMaurice Smith constantly referring to it as part of some mysterious negotiations that exist only in his mind lead me to believe that Smith and the NFLPA aren't serious about testing. He's already agreed to it, yet somehow thinks The League should give up more to get the players to do something they've already agreed to do. His own comments lend plenty of credence to the idea that he has no interest in testing and plenty of interest in protecting the cheaters.

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 6:20pm

It impacts this test more because of it's high false positive rate.

In a perfect world, "WADA officials said the false-positive rate was at least one in 10,000, or that the test was 99.99 percent accurate. (That rate is convincingly accurate, they said, pointing out that most courts recognize paternity tests that are less than 99.9 percent accurate in determining the father of a child.)"

If one presumes they take two samples, as they do with urine, one may have a much higher level of confidence assuming independent testing of the samples. Without that, just simply repeating incompetence on the part of testers can radically increase the false positive rate. The NFLPA wanted to have it's scientists look at the raw data that set the trigger rate for what constitutes a positive test the WADA, said "No." No.

They want to deny players game checks based on proprietary, secret, information. Great deal, huh? Get nothing, risk livelihood, based on a game of secret roulette and a plea to "C'mon, you can trust us."

It would be insane for the NFLPA to entertain that deal. Frequently testing thousands of players already increases the likelihood of false positives. AddMultiply incompetence (which the NFL has amply documented in its drug testing procedures) and ignorance (which the WADA has vowed to preserve), and all of a sudden, depending on how bad their math is, our expected false positive rate jumps from never to every year. Keep in mind, that's accepting they've faithfully computed and reported their own numbers. Which we can't know, because they won't show their data.

If their test is so great, they can prove it. If they can't prove it, they're wasting everyone's time. If they won't prove it, anyone who takes them at their word is irrational and anyone who puts their money on it is insane.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 7:53pm

"If one presumes they take two samples, as they do with urine, one may have a much higher level of confidence assuming independent testing of the samples. Without that, just simply repeating incompetence on the part of testers can radically increase the false positive rate. The NFLPA wanted to have it's scientists look at the raw data that set the trigger rate for what constitutes a positive test the WADA, said "No." No."

Where do you get this stuff?

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 8:17pm

Newspapers, the pdf of Sherman's ruling, etc. Where do you get your information? This isn't secret, anyone could find the exact same information probably from different sources in roughly the time it takes to query google. A 1 in 10,000 false-positive rate seems pretty damn high. If the NFL is going to take 4 game checks potentially worth millions from a man, he better damn well be in the wrong. Apparently, this is an extremely unpopular viewpoint.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 9:10pm

1 in 10,000 would be a false positive once or twice a decade. That is if the 1 in 10,000 figure is accurate, which I doubt.

What I heard is that the deal is being held up because NFLPA is insisting that they use current football players as the baseline, arguing that NFL players are likely to have different levels of HGH. The doctors I've spoken to say that this isn't the case and using a baseline comprised of players who are likely to be using HGH will basically mess up the test.

One question, if Sherman failed due to Adderall then why would they be talking about HGH in his case?

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 05/22/2013 - 11:39pm

In a perfect world, depending on the testing procedures, a 1 in 10,000 test might be good enough for once in thousands of years. I also doubt the 1 in 10,000 figure because when asked how they arrived at that the WADA said it's a secret. I'm also a little put off by the fact that they believe 1 in 10,000 alone is adequate given that people's livelihoods are at stake. I would have high confidence in a test that was unlikely (3σ out) to produce a false positive over the natural span of a average human life.

NFL players are ~5σ out of step with the rest of us. I don't believe a significant epidemiological study looking at this extreme, with people at the limits physical performance, of all races, from all over the world, has been done. If it has been done, it's probably the WADA people who did it, and they're not letting anyone see the data. Given that just stress, or exercise can radically alter HGH levels to the extent that detection of doping by measuring absolute levels impossible, which is why they're left to painstakingly compare ratios in the first place, it seems comically naïve to imagine HGH ratios are the one aspect of the human condition unaffected by either nature or nurture (not involving needles).

If you read the PDF of Sherman's case, you'll find that while it wasn't important in his case, his lawyers uncovered that the NFL wasn't doing truly independent testing. That's the safeguard not just against malicious interference, but also just repeating errors. This may vastly increase the likelihood of false positives, for an extremely delicate and challenging test who's greatest champions claim a seemingly quite high false-positive rate.

If it's such a great test, why can't they prove it?

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 05/23/2013 - 12:14pm

Just to play devil's advocate, if WADA were to reveal every little detail of their tests and test boundaries then wouldn't that make it easier for some organisation like BALCO to engineer their way around the test? I don't think hormone levels fluctuate to the extent you are suggesting and this test is used in many sports such as world athletics, it's mainly american sports where this is seen as problematic.

I'd suggest that maybe a slightly different regime is needed, lower penalties for a single failure but more frequent testing so that a player's career is less affected by a single false positive but you are still likely to catch cheating players. You argue that a false positive rate of once or twice a decade is unreasonable as it hurts players' careers but that seems to ignore that there are players losing out on careers right now who either refuse to cheat and so can't earn a job or get hurt facing oversized players and lose their ability to earn. There will never be a perfect system and refusing to take action until you find one tacitly condones the status quo where pretty much everyone believes that the NFL is rife with PED abuse.

One final thought, if you ask me who I trust to safeguard the integrity of sport and the safety of participants out of the NFL, the NFLPA or WADA then I'm going to put my trust in WADA.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 05/23/2013 - 1:17pm

"There will never be a perfect system and refusing to take action until you find one tacitly condones the status quo where pretty much everyone believes that the NFL is rife with PED abuse."

Good point. Perfect is the enemy of good.

by Dean :: Thu, 05/23/2013 - 8:31am

"It would be insane for the NFLPA to entertain that deal."

And yet they did. And now they're reniging on their contractual obligation.

by Dr. Goodell (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 5:33pm

the NFL-player relationship is...not a Dr. Patient relationship.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Sat, 05/18/2013 - 8:29pm

I would say that every NFL team has a bare minimum of 10 players using PED's. THe Seahawks are just being dumb enough to get caught.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Sat, 05/18/2013 - 10:01pm

I'd eat my hat if it was only 10.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 6:01am

I did say "at a bare minimum". I too suspect the real number would be WAY higher.

by jonnyblazin :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 11:30am

I'd say the real question isn't how many players are using PEDs, but whether the teams themselves are hiring strength and conditioning coaches, or consultants, that are supplying the PEDs to the players.

by Jerry :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 3:11pm

It's possible, I suppose, but unlikely. Not only would the league seriously frown on a club's involvement, but if a team tells a player "You have to get bigger," he knows what it means and almost certainly who to talk to.

by JonFrum :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 4:47pm

Adderall has nothing to do with getting bigger.

by jonnyblazin :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 6:50pm

There's no way to tell if what they are taking is Adderall. I don't think it is, but there's no evidence one way or the other because the league won't release the test results.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 7:08am

No. But it allegedly can mask the presence of other drugs that do help you get bigger.

by JonFrum :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 4:50pm

I listened to a segment on public radio last winter about Adderall on campus. The claim was that it's everywhere. You always have to take drug use claims with a grain of salt, but apparently it is quite common. It's used as a study aid, to increase attention. Football players - who aren't necessarily the best prepared students - need to learn a large play book and do it fast. I suspect most of these Adderall cases are guys who just can't absorb coaching X and O material fast enough and just want to keep up.

by Theo :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 6:44pm

or as a focus booster on the field

by JonFrum :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 8:03pm

Could be, but on the field, the game comes to you. In a meeting room, you're a school kid, and a lot of these guys did not shine in school.

"Played receiver as a Georgia prep but poor grades ended his sophomore season after three games. Transferred to another school, then dropped out of high school altogether as a junior after not having the grades to continue playing football. Spent the next two years on the streets before being arrested on a robbery charge and spending 21⁄2 weeks in jail. Decided to resume his football career in November 2007 after a friend, who had just been arrested, pleaded with him to make something of himself. After getting his GED in December 2007, tried to walk on at Butler Community College (Kan.) but was asked to redshirt and moved on to Mount San Antonio College (Calif.). "

by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 05/19/2013 - 9:35pm

But Sherman went to Stanford, if you believe he has been using Adderall (and at this stage, with what he has said and the test he failed and then got off on a technicality, I don't think it's unreasonable to think he has) then the 'player was using it to learn the playbook because he's too dumb' argument falls down.

by JonFrum :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:21pm

Adderall is both a 'study' drug and a party drugs. People take it to stay up late and keep the party going. There can be more than one reason to use a drug. I don't think there's any doubt that Irvin needs the help studying, given his history.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:54pm

But it's also a drug that can increase focus and reaction time on the field, which is why it's classified as a PED.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 12:22pm

Sehawaks going to have some probekms. Irivn loss with other stuff going to cause 2-2 or worse record after four vanes. Then schedule gets tougher. Team probably going to be 7-9 to 10-6 something in there. This means no division title. Division going to Ramms or 49ers. Seahakw s maybe win wild card game but that is all

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 12:34pm

Since the reports are saying it's Adderall, it seems as though there are two possibilities here:
A) Irvin tested positive for Adderall.
B) Irvin tested positive for something else and is lying that it's Adderall because that's what everyone does when they test positive these days, and the league never calls them on it.

If it's option A, then we must believe that Irvin witnessed what happened to Sherman last year and didn't think to get his Adderall paperwork in order. At best, this would make him an idiot. At worst, it would mean he knew no doctor would sign for it, which I have a hard time believing.

Option B is more believable in my mind. Not that it makes much difference.

by CoachDave :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 12:42pm

They don't call him "Pete the Cheat" for nothing.

by JonFrum :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:22pm

Tedious comment - far more at home among the kiddies at Pro Football Talk.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 3:14pm

I don't think it's that out-of-bounds to point out that a coach who left his previous job amid scandal now has another potential scandal brewing.

That said, this isn't likely to turn into a real scandal.

by CoachDave :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 4:59pm

Sorry, I'll run all my future posts by you for your approval.

I'm assuming IMAWESOMEJUSTASKME@yahoo.com is your email address?

by Anonymous` (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:16pm

Sando posted a list of how many players from each team have been suspended for PEDs in the same timeframe. San Francisco is at 0. Anyone else think that's more alarming than anything else given the Bay Area's history with PEDs?

by JonFrum :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:23pm


by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:57pm

Along with, Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Kansas, Philadelphia and the Jets. Brave guy to throw about completely unfounded allegations from an anonymous tag.

by RoninX (not verified) :: Mon, 05/20/2013 - 5:20pm

I think the number 0s is more shocking than anything else. It makes me think that the NFL *is* looking at "frequent offenders" like the Seahawks and Redskins more closely. That or the organizations are either being reckless, or (more conspiratorially) not institutionally assisting in helping players pass their tests. The variance is the spread definitely raises eyebrows one way or another.