The announcement today that under an NFL-NFLPA settlement Le’Veon Bell’s suspension had been reduced to 3 games was curious to me. I had been led to believe, via multiple sources, that Bell felt strongly enough about his innocence that he was willing to sue to clear his name. It seemed as though he was either admitting to more than he had let on, or he was getting more than it seemed out of the settlement than the initial announcement indicated.
The good news is that it was the latter. Per multiple reports, including Dan Graziano’s via ESPN, as part of the settlement, he will not advance next stage in the NFL Program for Substances of Abuse.
You may recall the August 20, 2014 incident where Bell was arrested for DUI for driving while under the influence of marijuana. While he was behind the wheel, his teammate and a female passenger smoked marijuana openly in the moving car with the windows rolled down; an incident many of my Steelers loving acquaintances refer to as the “Bongadeers Episode”. (h/t to Ricky Smith)
Sometime after his arrest, Bell entered substance abuse program, eventually entering stage two having been “deemed to require specific clinical intervention and/or treatment”. We know this because stage one rarely exceeds 90 days and he was/is still being tested almost two years after the DUI.
The date Bell entered the program is confidential, but it would have been sometime shortly after the DUI. Once he had reached stage two of the program, he would be subject to testing for two years.
That date is significant to the situation.
As a part of Bell’s deal he does not advance in the program. In other words, his multiple missed tests do not count as a failure. They are being judged under the missed test provision of the program, the relevant excerpt of which you can find in this article.
What does all of this mean? The NFL may have been embarrassed by the failure of the firm they contract with to do testing to adequately update Bell’s contact information and keep in contact with him. But they still get to punish him, and save face by having done so.
Absent a failure, or willful avoidance of testing (see: Bryant, Martavis), Bell gets to exit the program 24 months after having been placed in stage two. That 24 month anniversary has to be coming up relatively soon and it would appear that exiting the program may have been so important to Bell that he was willing to sit out three games in compromise with the league in order to preserve that date.
Within 24 hours of the reports that Bell was indeed staring at a 4 game suspension, I heard that Bell could prove that he had notified the testers via FedEx of his change in phone numbers and had a signature, with time and date, showing delivery. Bell allegedly missed multiple tests, the notifications for which went out in succession to his old phone number. The timeline involving the multiple misses or how far apart they were is unclear. All of that is supposed to be kept confidential.
The fact that the information regarding Bell’s case was not kept confidential is something that has generated some concern within the Steelers organization.
Update: Bell has posted a video on Twitter, then quickly deleted it, in which he admits smoking marijuana in December of 2014. One would think that the NFL can keep him in the program through at least December 2016 as a result of that admission. (video originally posted on pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)
Photo Credit: Le’Veon Bell via Twitter