NFL should be embarrassed

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should see to it that someone apologizes to Amobi Okoye, Calvin Johnson and Gaines Adams, Chris Mortensen writes.

Originally Published: April 19, 2007
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

What just happened to Gaines Adams, Calvin Johnson and Amobi Okoye is ridiculous, and embarrassing for the NFL.

That's right. The league gets this black eye, even though some will blame the National Football Scouting Combine, technically an independent entity but nevertheless in direct concert with the league when some 330 draft prospects are evaluated every February in Indianapolis.

As reported by Pro Football Weekly, those three highly rated players for next week's NFL draft admitted in one-on-one video interviews conducted during the combine that they had smoked marijuana.

Those video interviews are distributed throughout the league. Sure enough, there was a leak and now the public knows.

Jeff Foster, the president of the combine, would not confirm the report but said that a standardized list of questions for the video interviews are comprised by team personnel officials and conducted by team employees, much like the individual workouts.

Foster, who has an excellent reputation, is in his first year on the job and has worked hard to lock down some confidentiality issues, such as the leaking of Vince Young's Wonderlic scores last year.

"We have changed procedures, but clubs still have a lot of control in how they disseminate information," said Foster, who expects to have further conversations with the league's competition committee about such matters.

Mind you, as far as we know, none of these players tested positive for marijuana at the combine. There is a standard list of questions each of the players was asked, and they were encouraged to be honest. Ironically, only their good character prompted them to tell the truth when they were certainly within their right to pass on the question.

Bottom line: The question never should have been asked.

For one, that's why the league has players submit urine tests at the combine. If a guy has a real problem, chances are he is going to test positive. Players know well in advance of the combine that there is going to be a drug test. If a player tests positive, he'll undergo evaluation to determine whether he needs to be randomly tested for his first two years in the league.

The truth is, every personnel director and coach in the league suspects that more than 50 percent of the players smoke or have smoked marijuana during high school or college. It's why the NFL does not randomly test players for street drugs such as marijuana because, as one league official says, "We don't want to be the police. That's the job of law enforcement."

The league tests players once each year during a three-month window before training camp. A player is only tested randomly for street drugs if he has given reasonable cause, such as providing a positive sample during precamp testing, or having a run-in with law enforcement. Then he enters the substance-abuse program. (Don't confuse this with performance-enhancing drugs that are randomly tested for year-round without cause).

What personnel people and coaches hope is that a player who has smoked in college matures quickly and understands that habitual marijuana use can interfere with job performance, and it puts his ability to earn a good amount of money at risk.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell no doubt has had a conversation with NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw about this particular leak.

It was preventable. Don't ask the question. Now, three honest young men have their reputations stained in some form during a time that should be a great celebration for them and their families.

Will it hurt their draft status? Almost certainly not.

It's funny. I'm in the information business. If I had found out about this admission by the players, I do not believe I would have reported it unless there was a verifiable positive test to also disclose. That's not to indict the Pro Football Weekly. I may be in the minority on this issue.

"In a way, I had to smile because for a while there I thought Calvin Johnson was the most perfect man to walk the Earth in modern times," said a team general manager of the Georgia Tech star.

If I were NFL commissioner, I'd be mad about this entire process and the leak, and I'd be as mad as I was about Adam "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry embarrassing the NFL with their off-field escapades.

On behalf of the league, Goodell should see to it that someone apologizes to Adams, Johnson and Okoye.

Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN.