Adderall: NFL players’ drug scapegoat?

Jermaine Cunningham
Jermaine Cunningham

Many Patriots fans were disturbed by the four-game suspension recently imposed on defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham, reportedly for the use of the common attention-deficit drug Adderall. In fact, the National Football League’s rules against the amphetamine are sensible, but Cunningham’s case highlights the difficulties that the drug poses for the NFL and its players union.

A league source told the Globe that Cunningham tested positive for the drug, which can be used simply as a performance enhancer; some players take it to stay focused in training camp, for instance, or to reduce fatigue in the fourth quarter. For these reasons, the drug is forbidden in the NFL, except when a player with a diagnosed attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder applies for a therapeutic exemption.

But because the drug is so widely used on college campuses and elsewhere, it has gained a level of social acceptance that steroids and other performance enhancers have not. That makes it a convenient excuse when players fail drug tests. While the NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement prohibits the league from disclosing which forbidden substance an athlete is found to have used, players can say what they like. Of the two dozen players who have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances this season, more than half claim it was Adderall, according to USA Today.


The NFL and the players union need to clarify that using the drug to gain an edge on the field is unacceptable. The two sides should also agree to disclose players’ use of drugs to the public. That way, Adderall can’t be a scapegoat for players who are really using something else.