There are three subjects that really struck me this week. On the surface they seem completely and entirely unrelated.
But looking deeper, the fuss over athletes using Adderall, the lack of leadership from Gary Bettman and NHL owners in the the league's labor disaster, and the buzz about the Red Sox reportedly considering trading Jon Lester for a top prospect have one thing in common: The real truth is hard to find.
Let’s start with what’s been said and written this week about the drug of choice for NFL players.
The NFL has banned Adderall as part of its policy against performance-enhancing substances. The wonder drug that comes in a pill -- or powder -- has worked wonders for those who want help finding focus and fighting battle fatigue.
Aside from that, the impact in helping athletes perform at a significantly higher level is questionable at best. Adderall, unlike HGH or steroids, is not a training drug that alters physical appearance.
Still, those NFL players diagnosed with ADD or ADHD can use it if they are diagnosed by qualified medical professionals AND the prescription falls within NFL guidelines.
Brandon Spikes did not meet the second part of this requirement and was banned four games late in 2011. Brandon Bolden (in early November) and Jermaine Cunningham (this week) were hit with four-game PED violations. Aqib Talib began his Patriots career serving the fourth and final game of his PED violation for what he admitted was Adderall.
If a player commits a substance-abuse violation, there’s no mention from the league of the specifics. But in the cases of Spikes, Cunningham and Talib, Adderall was revealed as the culprit. This makes the cynic think back to a similar situation in the 1980s and '90s when Sudafed was blamed at every turn for failed drug tests.
Take the cynical approach even further. What does the NFL really care the most about: player safety or the image of standing for player safety? Regardless of which side you support in that argument, what the NFL really cares about is projecting the right image.
Roger Goodell is a lawyer first and foremost. He’s very aware -- with concussions happening at an epidemic rate -- that the NFL needs to put forth the image of doing whatever it can to make the game as “safe” as possible.
Right up there with image is protecting the bottom line. And the last thing the NFL needs is the federal government looking into illicit use of controlled substances by its members.
That is really why the NFL is trying to clean up its game. Goodell’s strategy: Avoid -- at all costs -- the courts and the government, two entities he knows are bigger and more powerful than the NFL.
But the NFL has a silent credibility issue within its borders. The way the league and Goodell handled “Bountygate” and handed out penalties to the Saints in the summer raised flags and opened wounds that remain in a fiercely loyal players’ union.
This is what Saints quarterback Drew Brees told the NFL Network’s Deion Sanders in an interview leading up to the Thursday night game with the Falcons:
Sanders: "How has the bounty issue affected your ability to lead in the locker room?"
Brees: "It hasn’t. If anything, it’s just brought us together. I think we’re at the stage now where I think the public, the fan base, everyone sees the truth in this. And that this process was kind of a sham from the start and that we’re being accused of things based on rhetoric and based on the testimony of some very unreliable people, as opposed to real evidence and real facts."
Why would the NFL have a grudge against the New Orleans Saints?
Brees simply raised his eyebrows.
Onto the NHL. The sport has celebrated Stanley Cup champions in Boston and Los Angeles in the last two seasons. We saw a seven-game finals in 2011. There were six-game series in the New York and LA markets in June.
In the cities that love hockey, and Boston is right at the top of that list, the NHL was thriving.
But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants you to believe that Donald Fehr is making the players expect unrealistic concessions from the owners. Bettman, who previously worked as a deputy for NBA commissioner David Stern, comes off as someone who is not aware that the NHL is nowhere close to as financially secure as his basketball counterpart because of television.
The players, by most accounts, were cut a bum deal in the last CBA in 2004. The players made concessions that allowed NHL owners to restructure their league and redistribute their wealth so that more of the fringe teams could survive. What did the wealthy owners do? They handed out 10-year, $200 million contracts to get through loopholes in the salary cap.
Fehr has told the players: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. He’s not going to let the players be taken again, and more to the point, he has them unified in that thinking.
Fehr learned at the hand of the late Marvin Miller, who died this week at the age of 95. Miller authored the first collective bargaining agreement in sports history. Fehr learned early from Miller that owners will take advantage of the players at every pass. Miller taught Fehr that owners need to be responsible for their own mess and not pass off their problems on the players.
And this is the real story here.
Bettman is trying to make Fehr the bad guy. But Bettman vs. Fehr is not what this two-month lockout that threatens the NHL season is all about. Instead, what’s really happening is that power-brokers like Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Flyers owner Ed Snider are sick and tired of picking up the tab for the weaker teams in the NHL who can’t survive on their own.
The players already have won the PR battle thanks to Fehr showing that this is a fight between the have and have-not owners in the league, not the players and owners. Hopefully, a mediator will speed a process that might already have taken too long to salvage a season.
Finally, with the Red Sox, team president Larry Lucchino went on Dennis & Callahan on Thursday morning and said the team has had no discussions about trading free agent-to-be Jacoby Ellsbury.
"He's our center fielder, and there's been no discussions with regard to him that I'm aware of," Lucchino said. "You don't know whether someone is going to come to you and make some kind of proposal, but our plan is to have Jacoby Ellsbury as our center fielder this year going forward."
It’s what Lucchino didn’t say that is significant.
He didn’t brush it off as pure speculation and lunacy, as he has when such discussions came up in years past. He knows the dynamic has changed, and really, there are no untouchables in the organization after last year’s organizational colonoscopy that freed up $250 million.
"We haven't ruled anyone out," Lucchino said. "We're not going to get into seven-, eight-year deals as we've done before. What we have ruled out is the kind of long-term, gigantic commitment to players if at all possible. We are more concerned about years than we are dollars."
The other sizable chip that’s been thrown out is starting lefty Jon Lester. This week, quite a stir was created when news leaked that the Royals are searching for a No. 1 starter and would be willing to part with top-line prospect Will Myers.
The Red Sox initially shot down any speculation that Lester would be on the trading block at all.
But don’t think for a moment that they dismissed the prospect of having a 21-year-old “can’t-miss” corner outfielder under their control for at least six years. As a matter of fact, the thought of getting younger with even more financial freedom going forward certainly must have given them reason for pause.
Lester is without question the most prized major league asset the Red Sox have left. Yes, they have Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks. But Lester still is considered by most GMs a top-of-the-rotation, major league-ready starting left-handed pitcher.
The real reason the Red Sox denied it at first is probably because they know the haul Lester could bring in any deal, and they’re not going to take the first offer that comes down the pike.
So, whether it’s Adderall, the NHL or the Red Sox, one bit of advice when hearing or reading news -- buyer beware.