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Steroids in NFL

Professional athletes are the best athletes in the world, and in the National Football League (NFL) they are among the highest paid. For instance, it is routine for top level quarter back's to make over $10 million per season, whilst the best players on other positions such as left tackle, wide receiver, and cornerback also get paid huge money. As a result, with this pressure to perform and land a huge contract comes the need to be healthy in order to stay at an elite level. Hence, performance enhancing drugs (PED) are going to be used, so in this article we will discuss the ins and outs of anabolic steroid use in the NFL.

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Table of Contents

What is NFL?

The NFL is the National Football League. It consists of 32 teams, with 16 per conference, all of which are located in the United States and play for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, the Super Bowl is the most widely watched sporting event in the world, aside from World Cup Soccer and The Olympics. Usually, it is played in early February on "Super Bowl Sunday" from a predisclosed location, usually in a dome, or in the South (although there was a Super Bowl played in NJ/NY recently).

American football is played with 11 players per team and consists of offense, defense, and special teams. It is a 60 minute game, consisting of 4 quarters, and a halftime; at the end of the 60 minutes the team with the most points is the winner.

What makes football unique is the many positions and skill sets that those players have, since depending on position you may need a combination of speed, strength, mental ability, improvisation, technique, and agility. Therefore, at the same time you have on the field players with stats ranging from 5'5" to 6'7", and weight can be from as low as 175 pound receivers or cornerbacks, and up to 350 pound nose tackles. A play is called in the huddle and is sometimes changed when teams line up, and everyone has a job to do on each play. It is truly one of the most exciting moments once the ball is snapped, because there is no telling what will occur.

Common Steroids Used

Football is an extremely physical sport, and recovery is essential. However, unlike other sports, which play back to back nights, NFL teams usually have a full week to recover in between games. For example, when a game is played on Sunday, teams are given the next day off to recover, and then it is back to practice and meetings. So you have to be both mentally and physically sharp.

Because of the pounding that is done on the body, human growth hormone (HGH) is thought to be widely used, and one anonymous player has said "HGH use is like clockwork."

Meanwhile, such anabolic steroids as non-esterified trenbolone and testosterone are likely used to give players a boost, they are impossible to detect. Interestingly, Shawn Merriman was busted for Nandrolone (deca durabolin) use several years ago, which is odd because it can be detectable for up to 18 months. However, most players are not that stupid to use something that is detectable for long periods of times.

Testing Procedures and Punishment

In general, the testing procedure consists in giving the players a 2 day notice to show up at a NFL approved facility. This can happen year round, and it is done a minimum of once per year. In total 6 players per week are randomly tested, and with the number of players on a roster, they could expect to be picked once every 10 weeks on average.

Human growth hormone (HGH) testing did not start until 2014, but the testing is still very loose, so it is possible to use HGH without getting busted because HGH is only detectable 1-3 days after injection. Moreover, non-esterified versions of trenbolone and testosterone are not detectable after 2 days at all.

The punishment for a first time PED fail is up to 6 games without pay, the 2nd is 10 games, and a 3rd fail is up to 2 years. Therefore, it is no surprise that we have not seen many players fail testing for PED's in recent years.


NFL players are expected to stay in shape year round because their professional schedule is very heavily loaded: organized team activities (OTA) start in late May, and training camp starts in July, followed by preseason in August, and the regular season in September. Players will need to stay fresh and healthy, as the season does not finish until potentially end of January, if their teams make the playoffs. Thus, players will depend on weight training, wind sprints, and using drills to get into football shape each summer. During training camp, and throughout the regular season, players will use rest days to heal their bodies.

History of Busts

The NFL is very secretive about what substances players are caught using, but as mentioned earlier, Shawne Merriman was busted for nandrolone and got suspended.

Furthermore, the BALCO scandal entrapped several players, including Bill Romanowski and David Boston. Romanowski has boasted that he did use steroids and HGH during his playing career, and he was known as one of the most dirty players.

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The most well known steroid story with the NFL was Lyle Alzado, where he was interviewed on national TV admitting to steroid use and dying from brain cancer. He was considered one of the toughest players during the 70's and early 80's, when steroids were not tested for. In fact, the NFL did not start testing for steroids until 1987. Unfortunately, Alzado died from brain cancer in 1992 and doctors said that steroids did not cause his death, even though in the final years of his life Alzado admitted to using steroids, and blamed them for his illness. Moreover, he also claimed that 90% of players were using steroids, and that he was mentally addicted to them.

Most notable steroid fails:

  • Julius Peppers was caught using steroids in his rookie year.
  • Duece McCallister was caught using a masking agent.
  • Dwayne Bowe and Calvin Pace were suspended for several games for failing a steroid test.

HGH and steroid use fallout

NFL players are bigger and stronger than they ever have been, and it has coincided with the rapid rise in season ending injuries and concussions. One must ask himself the question, is PED use causing soft tissues to become more fragile? Furthermore, do the bigger and stronger hits that players are taking cause more concussions and injuries? My guess is absolutely, and unless the NFL finds a better way to crack down on PED use, we will continue to see more and more season ending injuries to our favorite players. Considering estimates of use are at 90%, it is just not logical to expect this problem to resolve itself, so expect players to continue getting bigger and stronger; and expect more season ending ligament/tendon injuries and concussions.


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Written by
Steve Smi (Also known as Steve Smith), has over 12 years of experience in the bodybuilding and fitness industry. He's the co-Host of the popular Evolutionary Radio Podcast - over 500,000 listens! He has been a personal trainer and writer for the last 10 years with over 1000 articles written. He's been a moderator on forums for over 10 years. Steve holds the following certifications and records: NASM Personal Trainer NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist Florida Local Powerlifting champion Top writer for 2019 Fitness rated

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