Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thoughts On The Bruce Irvin Suspension

News of Bruce Irvin's suspension for performance enhancing drugs broke yesterday and the reactions were predictably varied. Anger, judgment, sympathy, and blind devotion all made their customary appearances. The one thing everyone could agree on was disappointment. Disappointment that a young man did not have the strength to deny himself a drug he knew he should not take. Disappointment that another Seahawks player tarnished his reputation, and that of the organization and city he represents. Disappointment that a franchise so desperate to win its first Super Bowl will start the journey at a self-induced deficit. It is natural that some feel the need to direct their frustration at Irvin and that others choose to throw themselves in front of the oncoming attacks. The ritual has become somewhat tired in an American culture so desperate to find heroes, and equally determined to tear them down. We have even seen people whose true heroism led to ego and excess that led to villainous acts they may have otherwise never done. One decision can define the perception of a person, but can never define the person.

Irvin made a mistake. Any good behavioral psychologist will tell you to let he consequences do the work for you. People piling on Irvin and reminding him of his mistake will do little to reduce the risk of it happening again. The $200K in salary he is going to lose, the knowledge that he let down his teammates and fans, the moment when he sees his team take the field without him will have a far greater impact than any self-righteous tweet sent his way. It is a painful lesson, and one he knows he should have already learned.

Some have turned their attention to Pete Carroll, pointing out that he needs to get control of his locker room. Those folks have not been paying close enough attention (and that's not an Adderall joke). No player has a safe spot on this team. Irvin was a first-round pick last year, but is 26-years-old. The team has Cliff Avril for two years, and he is only 27. They signed Michael Bennett for only one year and he is 27 as well. Irvin was set to compete for the starting SAM linebacker spot that would shift K.J. Wright over to WILL. This suspension may give Malcolm Smith the extra chance he needs to win the WILL spot and keep Wright at SAM.

Carroll controls this locker room by having a flashing neon "EXIT" sign in plain view. You can count on John Schneider stock-piling more edge pass rushers in next year's draft, and possibly adding more in free agency. Irvin cannot defend his spot on the sidelines.

One thing that is becoming clear to me is that Adderall is far more prevalent than I realized. This is not an athlete issue. This is a generational issue, and perhaps, a societal issue.

The definition of ADHD is being broadened which will lead to more prescriptions for drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. It is counter-intuitive that two players playing the same game could be taking the same drug, and only one is violating the rules. It is also questionable whether Adderall use in the off-season does anything to enhance a player's performance during the season. This is not a steroid that builds muscle and aids in recovery.

None of this minimizes an athlete's decision to take a substance they know is against the rules. It simply makes me wonder if the NFL is missing a larger problem, and if the current designation of PED makes the most sense versus a substance abuse categorization that would allow intervention prior to suspension, especially during the off-season.

The net result in the Seahawks lose an important player for the beginning of a promising season. One more spot on the roster is open to win for at least four games. Only Irvin knows if a lesson was truly learned.

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