The NFL is in talks with the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) to potentially expand the league’s drug policy. Several new changes are expected, and the most highly contested is testing players for human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs. In addition to these hot button issues, the league wants to impose stronger penalties on players for DUIs or DWIs. Current policy requires a player to forego two game checks after a first-time DUI or DWI offense. The proposed change would penalize players by requiring a one-game suspension in addition to one game check. The NFL hopes the proposed steeper penalty would provide greater incentive for players to decrease substance abuse and drunk driving incidents.

It is no surprise the NFL is trying to implement the suspension policy. For years, an increase in players’ DUI/DWI offenses has been a public source of embarrassment for the NFL. More importantly, the number of players injured or having risked injury to others has alarmed the NFL, as well as the general public. In a 2012 USA Today poll, reports revealed that since 2000 approximately 28% of player arrests were DUI arrests. With so many reports of players driving while drunk or impaired, the NFL and NFLPA have enacted multiple programs designed to prevent players from driving while impaired or intoxicated. In 2013, the league partnered with Uber, a car service company, to provide players with a transport program to avoid future DUI/DWs. Highlighting the organization’s DUI/DWI woes, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a memo in June 2012 specifically warning players and staff about the dangers and public perception of DUI/DWIs.

Unfortunately, the number of player arrests for DUI/DWI or related charges does not seem to be decreasing. The NFL still has a fairly lax policy regarding a player’s DUI/DWI arrest, and cannot suspend a player even for being convicted of a DUI or DWI. However, the NFL does not just need to worry about players’ DUI/DWIs, but coaches, owners, and other staff as well. In early 2014, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts was arrested for a DUI, and the Director of Player Personnel with the Denver Broncos was convicted and sentenced for drunk driving in May 2014. Some critics believe that the NFL has created a culture where alcohol abuse and drunk or impaired driving is not only tolerated, but also completely permissible.

The NFL is facing a tough road ahead. While league executives, some players, and other staff recognize a need to decrease DUI/DWI incidents, both for safety and public perception, it will be difficult to enact the proposed DUI/DWI suspension rule. The NFL and NFLPA must come to an agreement under their collective bargaining policies. If the policy is passed, there is no clear indication how players will react, or whether the rule change will have the desired effect. Some players advocate for the rule change, but others believe criminal penalties and two game checks serves as punishment enough. Moreover, it is unclear whether the proposed rule would help the NFL reverse its reputation as a DUI/DWI-tolerant organization.

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