Twitter Mailbag: Understanding the Johnson Situation

Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce. (Jeff Fusco)

Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce. (Jeff Fusco)

Today’s question comes from reader Ben.

I’ve been reading over the NFL’s 2015 Policy On Performance-Enhancing Substances to try and get a better understanding of the process in the event of a positive test. Here’s what I came away with:


Lane Johnson reportedly told Jay Glazer that “he took an amino acid that was approved but tested positive for peptide” and is “waiting on B sample.”

There has been no action to this point. A suspension cannot be handed down unless that ‘B’ sample comes back positive.

If it does and a player is notified of a suspension, he has five business days to appeal. It typically takes some time for that appeal to be heard. Per the rulebook:

Appeal hearings will be scheduled to take place on the fourth Tuesday following issuance of the notice of discipline. Upon agreement of the Parties, the hearing may be rescheduled to another date.

A month from now puts us at right around the start of the regular season. The policy states that “suspensions will begin when the Player accepts discipline or the decision on appeal becomes final,” meaning the player would be able to participate in games before the appeal verdict comes in.

It should also be noted that a suspended player can take part in preseason activities up until the point when final rosters are posted per the policy.


Based on his reported explanation to Glazer, it sounds like Johnson believes the amino acid he was taking is approved under the NFL guidelines but tested positive for something that shouldn’t be in there —  a “peptide” which is a compound of two or more amino acids, some forms of which can apparently be “taken to bump up the production of HGH.”

If this proves to be his defense, does Johnson have a strong enough case should this all lead to an appeal? Here’s what the policy states:

A Player is not in violation of the Policy if the presence of the Prohibited Substance in his test result was not due to his fault or negligence. The Player has the burden of establishing this defense. A Player cannot satisfy his burden merely by denying that he intentionally used a Prohibited Substance; that he was given the substance by a Player, doctor or trainer; or that he took a mislabeled or contaminated product, and the Player must provide objective evidence in support of his denial.

Sounds like the answer depends on 1) the strength of evidence, 2) the arbitrators’ interpretation of this language and 3) precedent.

Ian Rapoport reports that Johnson plans to appeal, but to be clear, we’re not there yet. As of this morning, Johnson had not been suspended.

If in fact it does go that way, it could be a while until Johnson’s fate is decided.