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SI’s Ricky Williams features hint at deeper issues with drug testing


The recently-unveiled Sports Illustrated saturation of Ricky Williams, including an ultra-long-form story, a documentary, and a fairly aggressive marketing push, includes plenty of nuggets that speak to some of the specific issues with which the NFL has struggled regarding marijuana.

One specific issue relating to the process for collecting urine samples.

In the documentary, Williams estimates that he was tested at least 500 times. His wife, Kristin, says that, “When the drug testers would come, some of them were like family.”

She also explains that one of the testers was so familiar with the family that he put Ricky’s samples on the counter, left for 45 minutes, and then returned. The samples resulted in a positive test; it’s unclear whether the obvious flaw in the chain of custody was used on appeal, but it’s the kind of thing that potentially could have gotten the test result overturned.

Also lurking within that familiarity between sample collector and collection subject is clear opportunity for mischief, as evidenced by the Von Miller case from 2013. Miller ultimately served a six-game suspension for trying to beat the testing protocol. It could have been much worse for Miller, but for the fact that the sample collector worked in cahoots with him.

Some believed the NFL dodged a bazooka shell with Miller’s case, given flaws in the process that allowed sample collectors to help players avoid positive tests. The NFL ultimately decided that the rabbit hole wasn’t very deep. Some would say, however, that the NFL wouldn’t have admitted to the existence of widespread problems, if that’s what the evidence had revealed.

With Williams, the familiarity with the sample collectors apparently didn’t rise to the level of shenanigans -- unless Williams actually generated far more positive samples than previously known. Although the Miller situation may have resulted in a tightening up of the procedures, the experiences of Ricky Williams suggest that an opportunity for foul play definitely existed.

The real question becomes whether and to what extent other players took advantage of those defects without, unlike Miller, getting caught. If Williams’ assessment that most players smoke marijuana is correct, it’s tempting to let the mind wander as to the various ways that players may have persuaded sample collectors to look the other way as someone else’s urine was placed in the cup.