The San Francisco 49ers had quite the Friday afternoon news dump, announcing that Aaron Lynch has been suspended for four games due to a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. For those wondering, this is not PEDs. I doubt we’ll ever hear for certain what it is, but given that we have not heard of any previous DUI arrest, my guess is it’s weed.
A suspension is not the first thing that happens when a player tests positive. Rather, there are three stages of intervention that range from basic treatment up to an indefinite suspension. I’ve embedded the substance abuse policy guidelines below, but I’ll break them down as best I can. It would appear that Lynch was in stage two of the league’s intervention program, but without knowing the drug involved, we can’t say for certain where exactly he is in stage two. I think he advances to stage three of the program at this point, but again, it might depend on what drug is involved.
This involves a player going through a treatment plan, and can be tested as often as the league’s medical director needs to adequately evaluate the player. A player remains in this stage for no more than 90 days, although it can be extended up to 90 additional days based on discussion between the medical director and a medical advisory. A player ends up in stage one either through behavioral issues (e.g. DUI) or a positive test result. A player can also be placed in the program directly out of college if the situation is necessary.
If a player is in stage one and fails a test or refuses a test, he can receive a fine equal to three weeks of salary.
A player that has advanced to stage two is subject to unannounced testing, but no more than ten times in a given calendar month. A player can remain in stage two for up to 24 months or two full seasons, whichever is shorter.
A player who fails to cooperate with testing procedures, or has failed a test for something other than marijuana will face two levels of discipline. A first failure results in either a 4 week fine if he successfully completed stage one, or a 4-week suspension if he did not complete stage one. A second violation results in either a four- or six-game suspension, and placement in stage three.
The NFL and NFLPA have negotiated some changes for marijuana related discipline. If the first positive test in stage two is for marijuana, the player is subject to a two-week fine, and then it moves into the multiple options listed in the above paragraph.
The final stage involves the same amount of testing (unannounced and no more than ten times per month), and a player can remain in the third level for the rest of his career. After 24 months, there is an evaluation, and if there are no positive tests, the player can be discharged. If he is not discharged, there are assessments every 12 months from there.
Discipline in the third stage involves a year-long suspension for most substances of abuse, but marijuana is a ten-game suspension.
Here is the full policy: