Cowboys’ La’el Collins Suspended for Violating NFL Substance Abuse Policy

Joseph DeBari
Sports Writer

On September 10th, the Dallas Cowboys announced that offensive tackle La’el Collins had been suspended five games following their Opening Night loss to the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The National Football League (NFL) stated that Collins had violated the league’s substance abuse policy which prohibits players from taking specific performance enhancing or recreational drugs unless it has an approved therapeutic use. Last year, NFL players were fined almost $9 million over about a dozen infractions. So, at the time, Collins’s suspension seemed like a normal substance abuse suspension But now, just over two weeks later, reports have come out that this suspension was in fact very different.

On September 25th, ESPN reported that Collins had received his five-game suspension due to multiple missed drug tests and attempting to bribe the test collector. The NFL is known for its strict substance abuse policy. The league will randomly test ten players on each team per week and these urine samples are tested for both performance enhancing drugs and illegal drugs being used recreationally. The league has programs to educate players on the negative effects of some of these drugs, but the league enforces these protocols strictly to ensure an even playing field among NFL players and teams as well as making sure that NFL players are representing the league and their respective teams with integrity.

Collins is key to the protection of franchise QB Dak Prescott, who will be testifying in his teammate’s bribe case (Photo courtesy of Fox News)

According to ESPN, when the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was made aware of Collins’s suspension handed down by the league, the Association was able to negotiate with the league. The NFL and the NFLPA agreed to bring Collins’s suspension down to two games which would allow Collins to return to the field for the Cowboys before the calendar turned to October. Collins had missed seven drug tests administered by the NFL over the course of the past year and his multiple offenses against a strict substance abuse policy is what made the NFL suspend Collins for five games. Typically, players will not get suspended for that many games without an actual positive test for a banned substance, but the league felt Collins’s 7 missed tests was excessive and that he was trying to beat the system. But Collins believed he should not have been suspended at all, not even the 2 games that the NFLPA negotiated for him.

Collins decided to appeal the two-game suspension. As part of the agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, whenever a player decides to appeal a suspension handed down by the league, the case will go to an arbitrator that is jointly hired by both the NFL and the NFLPA. The arbitrator will be unbiased towards both the player and the league and decide based on the evidence presented by both the league and the player what an appropriate suspension length, if there is any suspension at all, would be. In Collins’s case, the arbitrator sided with the league. Not only did the arbitrator decide that the league should suspend Collins, but he also returned Collins’s suspension to its initial five-game suspension not the two games that the NFLPA had negotiated for.

Arbitration decisions can be appealed, and Collins is attempting to do so. But ESPN reports that Collins will most likely not get the arbitrator’s decision overturned and that Collins will have to sit out three more games without pay following the Cowboys’ Monday night victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. In total, the five-game suspension will cost Collins over $2 million of his 2021 salary. But if Collins had decided to take the two-game suspension that the NFLPA had negotiated for him, Collins would have lost less than $1 million of his 2021 salary. Collins’s decision to appeal cost him over a million dollars and now Collins must sit from the sidelines as the Cowboys continue their 2021 season against the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and New England Patriots these next three weeks.


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