If we’ve learned one thing from his trial...it’s that Aaron Hernandez probably killed a dude or three. But if we’ve learned a second thing from the trial, it’s that Aaron Hernandez smoked a lot of weed. Like, a ton of it, and all the time. Enough to keep even the largest fictional giant in a permanent chill state. And yet the NFL never caught on.
The question that the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin set out to answer: if every NFL player is regularly tested for marijuana, how was Hernandez able to pass every drug test he took? The probable answer, from talking to agents and former league medical personnel, is mundane: the test is so, so easy to beat, and Hernandez wasn’t a moron about it.
NFL players are tested for recreational drugs once a year, during a window mandated by the collectively bargained substance-abuse policy. That window opens in the spring (this year, coincidentally, it’s on 4/20) and ends early in the preseason. But largely because of the cost of dispatching drug testers, the vast majority of players are tested during training camp, when they’re all in one place. All a player usually needs to do is make sure he pisses clean by the time he reports to camp, and once he’s tested, he can smoke as much as he wants for the next year.
If a player passes his one test, he won’t be tested again until the next April-August. One former medical personnel called it an “intelligence test, because it’s once a year, and you know it’s coming.” One agent quipped that players sometimes will throw “smoking parties” as soon as their testing is complete.
Even if Hernandez had pissed hot in one of his annual training-camp tests, he wouldn’t have been suspended or even outed. He merely would have entered stage 1 of the drug program, which would have led to increased testing—but just for 90 days. If he stayed clean for those 90 days, he would have been back to square one. Not only is the policy easy to beat the first time, but it offers second chances.
Aaron Hernandez would have had to have been pretty fucking dumb to get caught. Volin sums up the three possibilities:
[A]ssuming Bradley’s statements were accurate and Hernandez smoked year-round, there appear to be only three plausible scenarios:
- Hernandez kept a supply of masking agents near him at all times (many of which can be found at any GNC).
- Hernandez was in Stage 1 at some point, but passed all of his subsequent drug tests and was released from the drug program.
- Hernandez stayed clean for long enough each summer to pass his drug test in training camp, then smoked as much as he wanted for the rest of the year.
“There’s no way, in my mind, Aaron Hernandez was in Stage 1, because if he was he would’ve gotten caught,” one of the former medical personnel said. “The most logical conclusion is he stopped smoking in June, passed his test in July, then smoked all he wanted for 11 months of the year.”
That NFL drug testing is so predictable and so easily beatable is something of an open secret, albeit one no one wants to talk about for obvious reasons. (The league would rather not emphasize how toothless it is on recreational drugs; players don’t want to rock the boat on a system they’ve largely figured out.)
Nate Jackson’s Slow Getting Up is one of the rare public discussions of how the system works and how ineffective it is. Which is actually a good thing—the NFL has no business testing for marijuana, which is at worst harmless and at best an effective, non-addictive pain-management tool. If the testing policy exists only for PR, at least it doesn’t strive to be more than that.
How did Aaron Hernandez not fail NFL drug tests? [Boston Globe]