Panthers' Eric Reid has one option to fight NFL's 'random' drug tests

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid is going to have to sue the NFL.

Again.

If anyone is really going to get to the bottom of what is going on with the league’s drug-testing program – if there is anything fishy happening – the only legitimate recourse is to force the NFL’s handling of drug testing into the light. And like most things in the league that lack transparency, light is found only through the doors of a courtroom. And even then, rarely is anything meaningful achieved.

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If you doubt that, look at the collusion case Reid lost against the Cincinnati Bengals. Or his collusion case against the NFL, which appears to be in a holding pattern. Or better yet, look at the expanse of the collusion case of Colin Kaepernick, who has fought for 14 months just to get an evidence hearing that may not happen until mid-2019.

The Carolina Panthers’ Eric Reid took issue with the NFL after being subject to another drug test after Monday night’s game. (Getty Images)
The Carolina Panthers’ Eric Reid took issue with the NFL after being subject to another drug test after Monday night’s game. (Getty Images)

Suspicion is easy. Even understandable. Digging out some proof is exponentially more difficult.

The same as it has always been for every NFL player who has felt targeted by the league’s drug-testing program. It’s why James Harrison complained to no avail. Why Odell Beckham Jr. took issue but no action. And why Eric Reid keeps pointing out the mounting and unbelievable coincidence of his extreme testing but is taking no legal action. All of these guys have been rightfully suspicious of how the collectively bargained testing system works. But none of them could ever prove the system is rigged without actually taking a leap into litigation.

That’s why this method of testing, weaponized or not, isn’t going anywhere. Not without one of two things. Either the NFL Players Association needs to get a more transparent system in place in the next collective-bargaining agreement; or someone has to find proof beyond very reasonable suspicion.

Right now, Reid only has the latter.

Reid’s situation has layers. And some of them have become fuzzy in the frenzy of late. While Reid’s drug tests are absolutely pushing the boundaries of realistic “random” testing, a few things to keep in mind:

  • His seven tests in 11 weeks are actually six “random” tests. When Reid signed with the Panthers, he had to submit to testing for both the substance-abuse program and the performance-enhancing drug program. The latter of which continues at random during the year. Since passing that initial test for substances, Reid has been chosen for six additional tests via randomized computer selection. That selection process was agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA.

  • While Reid’s representation contacted the NFLPA to inquire about the “random” nature after a previous test, sources have told Yahoo Sports that no such effort has been made after the latest test. Further, the union has said it can’t comment on his most recent complaints to the media without his explicit authorization because of health and privacy laws.

  • Interestingly, the NFLPA hasn’t pushed for an inspection of testing procedures where it concerns the random nature of testing or whether it has been weaponized. Why? Likely because the union itself agreed to how this whole process would work. Right down to the company selected and the computer selection. One source told Yahoo Sports that when a player previously complained to the union about drug testing, the union replied by asserting that it believed the testing methods were legitimate.

What does all that mean? It means that considering the NFLPA helped to collectively bargain these current testing procedures – where a computer selects 10 players from a team to be tested following each game – it doesn’t have the motivation to chase down the process. And unless the players push the issue with the union, nothing is likely to change.

All of which turns us back to Reid. Like the Kaepernick grievance against the NFL, it takes a player assembling his own legal team and drafting his own complaint to truly rattle the league. That’s what Kaepernick did when he felt the league locked him out of a job. The union has been a part of the process, but almost always at the back of the legal entourage. It’s not going to be any different for Reid if he truly believes the NFL is targeting him.

We can talk all we want about the statistical improbabilities of six “random” drug tests in 11 games. We can speculate that the NFL must be exercising some vengeance against Reid’s social justice protests as he has kneeled before the playing of the national anthem. And we can even question whether or not the union has any motivation to chase down a system it helped create.

But it’s all going to begin and end in one measure: Eric Reid’s willingness to move his complaints from a court of public opinion into a court of litigated justice.

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