When the Grizzlies take to the hardwood against OKC for the first game of their first round matchup, they’ll be without guard Nick Calathes. He’ll be nursing a bout of public shame and be carrying out a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. The 20 games means that unless Memphis can pull off a few seven-game series upsets, the handy point guard won’t be playing this postseason. The timing of the news and the league’s refusal to bend for Calathes’ supposed accidental taking of the estrogen inhibitor Tamoxifen suggests the NBA means business.
The league still falls behind other professional sports leagues in how it handles the abuse of performance enhancing drugs but this development could point to a growing trend. Tamoxifen, for its part, isn’t a PED but is used in tandem with PEDs as a masking agent. Calathes’ defense is that the inhibitor was found in “an over-the-counter supplement to treat a private but common medical condition,” as told by his attorney to ESPN. Since no traces of actual performance-enhancing drugs were found in his system he believes he shouldn’t be the victim of suspension.
Players union executive director Ron Klempner opined that the situation is one that needs remedying as Calathes appears innocent. He told ESPN: “This player is not a cheater but unfortunately our program treats him as if he is one. It’s a failure of our policy and it’s something that we plan on addressing when we next discuss our policy, which I hope and expect is before our agreement expires.”
But the league seem to be acting accordingly in this particular regard. And it’s a welcomed sign that they’re not budging on the matter.
The 20-game suspension is not severe as it fits in line with the new suspension rules set up by the collective bargaining agreement of 2011. In addition, the league has explicitly warned its players about the dangers of taking nutritional supplements. As one of the NBA’s 140 banned substances, it falls on a player like Calathes to be incredibly mindful of everything going into his body. Sketchy nutritional supplements that may or may not contain an estrogen inhibitor should be at the top of that list. And the nature of taking Tamoxifen almost guarantees that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs at some point.
By not bending to an act of ignorance, at least according to Calathes and his lawyer, the NBA sets a precedence for other players thinking of using a similar defense if caught. If it is later decided that a 20-game suspension is simply too much for the discovery of an ancillary drug like Tamoxifen, the league and the players union can renegotiate the terms of the deal. In the meantime, Calathes will likely serve his suspension as a sacrificial lamb. Surely, the league will be the better for having him do so.