It's commonly agreed upon that professional athletes live in a fantasy world because they get paid millions to run and to jump, but sports also often reflect real life. These are, after all, still people; people stronger and more agile than the rest of society, but people that share similar experiences to their peers nonetheless. If you accept this, it wasn't hard to spot the NFL's latest media firestorm coming from a mile away.
As the Bears prepare to host the Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field, Seattle is at the center of football's latest craze. Word came down last Sunday that Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, starting cornerbacks and key cogs in the Seahawks' defense, were each faced with a four-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. It turns out neither were taking the cream and the clear or getting injections in shady bathroom stalls from Jose Canseco: the Seahawks cornerbacks were merely popping Adderall. It's becoming a trend.
Browner and Sherman are far from the first NFL players to be suspended for Adderall, and there almost seems to be some shared brotherhood among the position they play. The Seahawks pair moves the number of NFL defensive backs suspended for the drug to six this season, joining Browns star Joe Haden, Giants safety Will Hill, Patriots corner Aqib Talib and Tampa Bay's Eric Wright. While some have wondered if claiming the failed test came from Adderall is merely an unconvincing defense meant to distance the players from the Scarlett letter than comes with being a convicted steroids abuser, it feels safe to assume those people likely don't spend too much time around 20-somethings like Browner and Sherman. 20-somethings love Adderall.
I'm a little bit older than Sherman and a few years younger than Browner, and there are times when I feel like I'm the only person around my age who hasn't recreationally popped some Adderall. It's not only the hottest new drug on the streets, it's almost a form of currency: there's an Adderall shortage right now, and people like it so much that black market prices could seemingly undergo insane inflation and still move product.
I talked to several people I know who have taken the drug and this is how they described it:
"It's very similar to coke"
- "Alert, jittery, awake"
- "You can focus on like 10 different things and switch between them with ease"
- "It's seriously just speed"
One friend went into further detail:
That and Ritalin were big recreational drugs in high school/college. I have been told that it affects people differently (like if you have ADHD, which I don't have or at least my parents wouldn't allow a doctor to diagnose me with) but to me it's speed, plain and simple. It's an amphetamine so think of it like a really, really, really strong cup of coffee. It wakes you up, makes it easier to concentrate on certain things (like mundane tasks--never thought it was that helpful for writing but was for studying). These symptoms peak however and then you crash, which sucks. The time, onset, effects of the drug are also dependent on how you ingest it. If you take it like a pill, Adderall usually has time release agents in it that keep the ride pretty tame. However if you chew it up or, as many people use it, crush it up and snort it, it's basically speed.
How it effects me is I feel really good for about an hour and a half, then I get fidgety, anxious and have a hard time relaying proper emotion in conversation. Teeth grinding sometimes happens and it's a bitch to get to sleep without some sort of sedative. Clinicians try to tell you that kids with ADD do not get these symptoms because of the way the drug works in their brains. This is probably a good distinction to make with these suspended players if they were they prescribed this medication.
Amphetamines in sports are absolutely nothing new: baseball players in the '80s were all about speed; really, every generation finds its own way to get an edge, its own drug to abuse. The fact that the drug of choice for the current generation appears to be Adderall amounts to the least surprising thing in the world. Adderall almost seems ingrained in the American college experience at this point.
Have a term paper you need to crank out? Adderall. Need to cram for a big exam? Adderall. Need to find the motivation to clean a messy apartment, want to lose weight, want to get extra crazy on a Saturday night? Adderall, Adderall, Adderall.
Whether this is a party drug or a concentration thing is in the eye of the abuser. Haden claimed he took it to stay up all night in Vegas. It isn't rare to encounter someone at a party or a concert who thinks they're invincible when they're on it. The practical effects are also very real; if Adderall is really foreign to you, just a college-aged person at your family Christmas party about it. Chances are, no matter how straight-edged they appear, they are well-aware of the benefits to popping Adderall before a heavy load of school work.
When you aren't trying to stay up all night drinking, Adderall is mostly for "getting shit done". The same friend who described it to me as "baby coke, right down to the crash" also said it "made you focus hard on the task at hand". Why are we surprised this is turning into a 'thing' in sports, where the competition to keep your job is fierce and the payoff for excelling is generational wealth? OF COURSE athletes are abusing Adderall; the real shocker is that it took until this exact week -- in 2012 -- for the media to really jump all over it.
So please: check the pretense and leave any faux-outrage behind: Adderall isn't a "football problem", it's a drug young people love to abuse that is probably dangerous. I'm not arguing it's "okay" or even socially acceptable, just saying that it isn't a new thing or some sports-only performance-enhancer, by any means.
If nothing else, we got some great reaction this week out of the Bears on the issue. After being pressed, Brandon Marshall said "I've heard (of) guys using like Viagra, seriously", which triggered a follow-up to Lance Briggs. Briggs then provided this answer, which is destined to become an overused fantasy football team name next season:
"Hey, I heard about that," Briggs said when asked about the topic. "There’s going to be a lot of dangerous boners on the field, I guess. I don’t know. I usually do the tackling, but apparently maybe some offensive guys they’re getting boners. I’m gonna leave that one (alone).
I think this perfectly sums up where we are in terms of reaction this week: Adderall abuse in sports just might be a big deal, but the ensuing firestorm still comes off as a little silly. People like drugs/athletes have been taking drugs to gain an edge for decades/athletes are young people living in the world right now/young people living in the world right now love Adderall.
The only real shame, from the Bears' perspective, is that the appeal filed by Sherman and Browner means both will play on Sunday, and both are very good. Now we'll see just how good they are without that extra boost.