Institutions and Competition

American sports diplomacy hit by drug investigation

July 27, 2014

With the American football season opening soon the National Football League (NFL), a source for sports diplomats and famous for the violent “hitting” that fans love, is taking a hard hit.


The NFL has sent sports ambassadors to war zones for decades to serve as role models to boost the morale of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia.


Now the NFL is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for allegedly promoting the use of addictive narcotic class prescription drugs among its players, including inside NFL locker rooms during games.


According to an exclusive story published by The New York Daily News the investigation is a response to a class action lawsuit by around 1300 retired NFL players accusing the league of “illegally handing out painkillers, sleeping pills and other drugs without informing players of the risks of health problems and drug addiction.”


Considering that the most recent class action settlement award against the NFL was $875 million, the ongoing drug investigation could cost the league over $1 billion once lawyer fees are added on.


A “quiet investigation”

Several media sources have reported that the investigation is being conducted “quietly” to limit media attention that might drive up the final cost of a settlement.


Books and articles published in the United States have long charged that the NFL maintains a security staff whose mission is to keep substance abuse issues including dealing drugs, inside the “NFL family” and outside the legal system that, in theory, prosecutes the average citizen.

Employing investigators who maintain close contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state and local authorities, the league seeks to stay on top of incidents to maintain its reputation. One recent incident involves Aaron Hernandez, a former player on the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots.


The owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft, who is also owner of a famous Super Bowl ring that became a sensationalist U.S. public diplomacy vehicle for Russia bashing, was interviewed recently by authorities regarding former player Hernandez, who is accused of committing a double murder that is connected to his use of illegal drugs.


Protracted conflict between players and league

While the DEA investigation into the NFL and drugs proceeds, on July 7th a Federal judge authorized a final agreement in which the league is required to pay out an $875 million settlement on another class action involving "hitting" to retired players.


All of the players in the action suffer from the effects of concussions and other medical problems involving brain trauma that took place during their careers as professional football players, the palliation of which is often associated with the use of addictive narcotic drugs.


The television sports network ESPN and other major  media have published articles indicating that the NFL for decades has used its powerful influence in Washington and elsewhere to discredit claims made by the retired players and their lawyers. These articles indicate that the league, directly and indirectly, provided medical expert testimony and generated news coverage to challenge and otherwise delay efforts to reach a fair and equitable settlement.


The DEA that is investigating the NFL is the same organization that conducted the “sting” operation that arrested and extradited from Thailand Russian and former Soviet arms broker and transportation consultant Victor Bout, a story that has been discussed in a previous post by this blogger.


Bout remains in a high security prison in the United States, where he is muzzled from discussing the $160 million in business he did on behalf of the United States interests in Africa, and Iraq, where NFL sports ambassadors visit.


Since the Bout affair is a reminder of how everything the DEA does has the potential to cut both ways one would be remiss in not raising the question of whether their “quiet investigation” into the NFL will be a “non-investigation investigation.”


The United States is the world leader in the globalization of sports violence

Hollywood has earned hundreds of millions of dollars producing films that exploit, satirize and criticize violence in professional sports, particularly football.


One blockbuster, called “Semi Tough,” features a professional football coach operating in a fictitious league who instills in his players the concept of knowing the difference between pain and injury, which includes taking injections of pain killing drugs that help mask potentially career threatening injuries.


Another Hollywood classic, “Any Given Sunday” by director Oliver Stone, features a former defensive star who in real life is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and known for his “hitting” on the gridiron (football field) starring as a character who is willing to sign a waiver to his contract before a big game. The waiver holds team ownership harmless if the existing condition he has causes him to have brain damage for life if he plays in the game. In typical Hollywood fashion, he gives a standout performance during the game,only after being given a cocktail of drugs by the team doctor. His team (a fictitious one, not the "real NFL") wins the championship. End of story.


During the first cold war the “bad guys” were the Soviet and East Germans. Now the karma has reversed.

Before international sports marketing became big business western propaganda assets made politically incorrect jokes about  Soviet Olympic athletes Tamara and Irina Press, of Jewish and Ukraine heritage, calling them the “Press Brothers,” because  they thought the appearance of the athletes (particularly shot put Olympic gold winner Tamara) had masculine features, suggesting that they were examples of communist “sports medicine.”


Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, associate director of the secret “East German” sports medical program, was characterized as a “Dr. Evil” in the western press and later found guilty in a reunified German court for doping and causing pain to some of the gold medal winning former communist athletes and sentenced to 18 months in prison.  


Now the drugs issue has come full circle.


Drugs and violence are profitable prescription for global sports marketers

According to Forbes magazine, advertisers paid $4 million dollars for each advertisement during the Super Bowl in 2013, which reached an audience of 108  million people. According to sports website, total NFL Super Bowl-related spending in 2013 was $12.4 billion. Meanwhile, the NFL is exempt from U.S. antitrust laws and holds not-for-profit status thanks to the Internal Reveue Service.


Writing last year in the Atlantic Monthly, journalist Gregg Estabrook suggested that the NFL can get away with anything. The DEA, which entrapped Victor Bout in a sting operation and is currently “quietly investigating" the NFL, seems to think it can too. 

Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
For business
For researchers
For students