Football players turn to PEDs to get physical, mental edge

Akbar Gbajabiamila, an analyst on NFL Fantasy Live, played defensive end for three NFL teams from 2003 to 2007. In his weekly "Inside Out" column, he offers a player's perspective on topical events around the league.

This week, Gbajabiamila tackles the subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and their use in NFL locker rooms, a subject that reared its head in the news again this week. Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are in the process of appealing their four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy against PEDs. Several media outlets reported the two players had ingested Adderall, a psychostimulant drug for ADHD and narcolepsy, although Sherman vehemently denied taking anything.

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Every time I read the bottom ticker on TV, it seems another athlete is facing suspension or major consequences for violation of the NFL's drug policy. What drives an NFL player to this point? Based on my experience, it's simple: organizational pressure, potential earnings of millions of dollars, and athletic superiority.

Every athlete wants a competitive edge, and I found mine early.

My decision to find a viable edge started at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where I discovered MET-Rx protein powder and bars during a visit to a food trade show. Using this physical-enhancing supplement during my senior year allowed me to make the biggest jump in muscle mass, production and confidence. I saw instant results, going from 196 pounds to 214, and felt like I had a tool that worked for me.

When I got to San Diego State, the stage was bigger and the pressure was more intense. That's when almost the entire team was introduced to creatine monohydrate. That stuff tasted nasty, but it was a popular supplement used by athletes to increase lean muscle mass, strength, and energy. The human body naturally makes creatine to supply energy to the muscles. We were required by the strength coach to take this enhancement in cycles, and I saw a gain in both size and strength.

In the NFL, it didn't take long for me to be introduced to the next step up in PEDs. In 2003, my rookie season with the Oakland Raiders, we were on the road against the Tennessee Titans. In the locker room before the game, I kept hearing guys talking about the "T-train." I thought it was an inside joke about the Titans. I was wrong.

That day I discovered the "T-train" was Toradol, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and severe pain in the body.

Guys were lined up like a cattle call to get the shot from the team doctors. I saw one teammate after the next getting injected, in either the shoulder or buttocks, with a concoction of Toradol and Vitamin B-12.

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One veteran player looked at me and said, "Take a shot of that and you won't feel a thing when you play." I jumped in line, and that was the beginning of my Toradol dependency. After my first shot (let it be known, I hate needles), I heard someone yell across the locker room, "Once you get on the T-train, you won't get off."

He was right. Every game I played after that I took a shot of Toradol. I felt like it gave me an edge, but in reality I was just on an even playing field because this was customary in every locker room around the league. Any game-day pain you felt disappeared until you woke up the next morning.

Adderall stimulates your focus, concentration and memory. With the occupational demand of the NFL, it can become very seductive.

Between meetings, film study, weight training, and practice, a typical day at the team facility during the season lasts approximately eight hours. And it doesn't end there. When you get home, you're expected to study more film, extending your day an additional three hours.

I know what some of you are thinking: If you're making millions, you better do what it takes. And for the most part, most of us do, or did, in my case. But with that much academic intensity (typically, NFL players spend more than 40 hours a week studying game film), mixed in with a daily physical practice, you need some sort of aid to stay competitive.

If Adderall were passed out like Toradol was when I was in the NFL, players in the league would be on the A-train. In no way am I condoning using banned substances. However, as the list of banned substances grows, players will find ways to obtain the newest edge in order to maximize their earning potential.

Follow Akbar Gbajabiamila on Twitter @akbar_gbaja