Opioids in Sports: An Increasing and Disturbing Trend

It is becoming more common. 

And more alarming. 

Just a couple days ago it was announced in the autopsy reports for Tyler Skaggs that the opioids, fentanyl, and oxycodone, along with alcohol, were in his system at the time of his death on July 1 when the Los Angeles Angels were in Arlington to play the Texas Rangers. 

Opioids, such as fentanyl, have become such a huge issue in the United States that members of US Congress have proposed legislation against countries known to produce it to prevent the drug from entering the country. 

This issue is trickling, and possibly flooding, into the sports world. Drug usage in sports in the form of painkillers, such as opioids, have become a staple to athletes looking to relieve the stress, grind, and toll professional sports bring to their bodies and minds. 

But why is this the case? Sure, athletes take painkillers all the time. Sports are physical, and as a result, aches, pains, and the sort will occur. Team physicians will prescribe painkillers to players. It occurs daily. 

Fentanyl and oxycodone are prohibited substances. In the case of baseball, both substances are banned under MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It is not just a baseball-only ban either. Under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), both substances are banned from use in sports, which not only includes professional leagues but also in collegiate athletics and world competition, such as in the Olympic Games. 

Again, the question remains unanswered. 

Why do athletes continue to take substances such as these? 

The reasons could be endless, but two areas, in particular, could be striking reasons as to why this is taking place. 

The first reason is simple. In MLB, players on 40-man rosters are not tested for drugs of this substance unless “reasonable cause” is found; if a player has been found to use it before or if a player is subject to testing under a treatment program. Players that do not have a history with drug use means, on the surface, there is no “reasonable cause” to test them. Because of this loophole, players that have no history of drug use would have no reason to not use them, as there is no fear of them being tested for it. 

The second reason could arguably be simpler than the first. And more subtle.

The pressure.

Sports are more than just the game itself. Athletes must prepare for the game through practices, work-out sessions, and specialized training to recover from any injuries that possibly take place during that time. 

When games take place, it is possible for millions to be watching on any given night. In MLB, there are 162 regular-season games. In the NBA and NHL, there are 82 regular-season games. In the NFL, there are 16 regular-season games. And, of course, all sports leagues have their respective postseasons. Collectively, no matter what sport, the spotlight is on the athletes. Constantly. With social media becoming more common, the game is not the only thing being spotlighted now. The practices, as mentioned above, are also being shown more frequently. 

Athletes are put on such a high pedestal that it is possible that some feel as if they must succeed. For athletes that get injured, some could feel pressured into getting back onto the field, rink, court or pitch in order to not only live up to their teammates but also to the fans as soon as possible. The pressure to live up to not only a contract, perhaps, but also the pressure to succeed and constantly be in the action. 

Is it possible that drug usage in the form of banned painkillers is increasing due to drug agencies not prioritizing it as opposed to drug-enhancers? Perhaps. 

Is it possible players feel coerced into taking painkillers to get over possible injuries, or to come back from injury, in order to live up to the severe pressure to succeed? Definitely. 

The extent to which this is taking place in sports is unknown.

The trend to which it could be happening is scary, and something must be done. 

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Blame Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano for Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement

 

At 6:30 PM Saturday, August 24, 2019, I was checking Twitter to see what was happening in the world of sports and the first tweet I see read the following. From ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter:

“Filed to ESPN: Andrew Luck has informed the Colts he is retiring from the NFL, per source. There will be a press conference to make it official, but Luck is mentally worn down, and now checking out.”

I collapsed to the floor in shock. Andrew Luck is not a quarterback who was heading into his later 30’s like many other quarterbacks, or someone who suffered a career-ending injury, this is an elite quarterback who is in the middle of his prime and just came off a spectacular season.

This news sent shock waves throughout the NFL as seeing a 29-year-old star quarterback retiring two weeks before the season was unbelievable. The NFL lost a great quarterback, and what is unfortunate is the previous Indianapolis Colts regime ruined his career, and the current one that are doing things right, will now have to pay for its mistakes.

Andrew Luck came into the league as one of the most hyped and sure-fire quarterback prospects in NFL history and immediately showed why he was the number one pick. Luck in his first three seasons in the NFL carried an average at best defense, a running game that disappeared often, and a leaky offensive line to an 11-5 record each season, and a playoff record of 3-3, including an AFC Championship game appearance in 2014. After that, his career went downhill as he missed half of 2015 with injuries, then in 2016, played through other injuries, and then missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury. While having a successful 2018, he was once again battling through injury before this upcoming season and retired as he was mentally drained through all the rehab and pain.

During Ryan Grigson’s tenure, 2012-17, Andrew Luck was pressured 16 times per game, which was the most of any quarterback during that time and was sacked more than 40 times twice. Also, Grigson drafted three offensive lineman, Hugh Thorton, Jack Mewhort and Khaled Holmes, before the 7th round, and all of them were busts.

It is sad Grigson could not surround Luck with a proper offensive line to protect him from all the injuries he suffered such as rib, abdomen, lacerated kidney, a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and a calf/ankle injury that led to his retirement. Also, forcing Luck to carry the offense and forcing him to win shootouts contributed to ruining what once looked to be a legendary career.  

Now, the Indianapolis Colts will turn to Jacoby Brissett to carry their young core and a new regime in a now bleak and uncertain future. This will go down as a tragedy and what-if in sports. Enjoy retirement Andrew. You will be missed.

Photo via Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Brown will prove all wide receivers are expendable

Antonio Brown, unsurprisingly, has ignited a ruckus in the Oakland Raiders camp after whimpering to team officials that he will refuse to step foot on the gridiron without his precious helmet. Brown has another thing coming if he believes that he holds leverage in this snafu. He is a 31-year old wide receiver; compared to the league’s elite receivers such as Michael Thomas(25), DeAndre Hopkins(27), and Tyreek Hill(24), Brown is a grandfather. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “Antonio Brown believes the new helmet that the rules mandate he wears protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch the football. The Raiders have been sending Brown other approved helmets to try out but, at this time, he is not interested in wearing any of them”. Luckily for the Raiders, it takes 52 men to win a Super Bowl, not one child. Tyrell Williams will suffice as a number one option for Derek Carr and rookie, Hunter Renfrow, will significantly contribute parallel to Williams. Rookie running back, Josh Jacobs has 1,000+ rushing-yard potential, which should help out the receiving core even more. Brown’s potential absence will further prove that wide receivers are expendable in football.

In the last ten seasons, only three wide receivers that finished in the top ten for yards were members of that year’s Super Bowl champion squad: Greg Jennings(2010), Victor Cruz(2011), Demaryius Thomas(2015). Performances from wide receivers vary from game to game. Does any NFL fan, minus Seattle Seahawks fans, remember the name Chris Matthews? No? I do not blame you because he is now in the CFL. Antonio Brown is another addition to the outlandish reality shows that receivers and defensive backs have put on in recent years. Players like Jalen Ramsey, Odell Beckham Jr., and Josh Norman run their mouths and are entertaining for media scrums have yet to outweigh their off-field antics with their on-field contributions. As defense affects win-loss outcomes more than offense, the wide receiver is the most expendable of the 22 on-field positions. Teams carry eight to nine receivers on a single 52-man roster at a time, while other positions only carry two to three for the majority of the league. For receivers, it is always next man up. The player that is two positions below you on the depth chart still has the potential to have as good, if not better game than you, with one catch. With the pretentious threat of Antonio Brown’s absence from the Oakland Raiders, the Raiders will prove Brown’s extinction to be beneficial in the long-run.