How Adderall Became The It Drug Of The 2012 NFL Season

A lack of education and easy access makes the stimulant a popular choice for NFL players.

Tony Dejak / AP

When New York Giants safety Tyler Sash had several speaking engagements lined up during the 2012 offseason, he turned to a doctor to help him with the impending anxiety. According to the statement released on his Twitter page: “I took a prescription drug (Adderall) legally under a doctor’s care for an anxiety condition during the offseason in March of this year.” Like two of the other three players who said they were suspended for the use of Adderall this season (it’s a stimulant, but the league does not specify what drugs players are suspended for), he claimed he had no idea it was banned under NFL rules.

That might be true. But the drug, agents and a former Division 1 college player who spoke to BuzzFeed said, does have a reputation in football for having a number of uses: quelling anxiety, concentrating on learning the playbook, blocking out excess noise on the field, dropping weight, moving faster, and of course, partying. And it can be obtained legally. The only surprising thing about its sudden prevalence is that it apparently took so long for players to start getting caught.

“Everyone wants to do business with an NFL player so there’s always someone with a doctor who is a friend of the family who just can’t wait to call and help,” said one NFL agent, who declined to be identified.

Numerous agents who spoke to BuzzFeed said there is widespread confusion about what procedures players should follow if they’re legitimately prescribed the drug.

“I think it may be a case where a lot of guys have tested positive for Adderall got fined because they did not get an exemption [from the league],” said Jack Bechta, whose clients include Sash. “I think if you look at the last several cases, most claimed and have proof they got the drug legally under a doctor’s care and just didn’t do the exemption form prior to using it. The pattern says that its probably an education issue.”

Adderall has been on the NFL’s banned list of substances since 2006. The NFLPA issues a handbook to players each year with an updated list of banned substances, which is also available on their website. And agents stress that they tell their players to check with their trainer for everything they even think about putting in their bodies.

“My advice to any of my clients is before you take anything whether it’s over the counter, whether it’s a supplement from GNC that you feel you need to take ask the training staff first,” said Barry Gardner, a former player who now works with players at the Institute for Athletes sports agency.

But for players with extensive medical regimens, some banned drugs can slip through the cracks, agents said. And players in Sash’s year missed some of their rookie education because of the player lockout.

Meanwhile, a former Big Ten college player told BuzzFeed, Adderall was easily and informally available when he played in the mid-2000s. The player, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed the drug through a doctor, said he would get the prescription free through the university, then pass pills on to his teammates.

“I knew a lot of kids who would offer to pay me to fill my prescription,” he told BuzzFeed. But since he didn’t have to pay for it in the first place, he said, “I would just give it to them for free.”

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

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