Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for missing an NFL mandatory drug test. ESPN’s Dan Graziano first reported the story last Friday and provided further details.

Sources close to the situation tell me Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s drug policy. The suspension is the result of a MISSED drug test, not a failed one, and the reason it hasn’t yet been announced is that the appeal process is still going on. No date for Bell’s appeal has been set, though it’s expected that it will be heard before the start of the regular season, meaning that if it’s not overturned, he would miss the first four games of the season.

Bell was suspended for the first three games of last season (later reduced to two) for a violation of the policy on substances of abuse after he was arrested for marijuana possession and DUI in the summer of 2014.

Suspension

Per the 2015 NFL’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse (Policy), Bell’s four-game suspension is easily identifiable. That is, Appendix E — Procedures for Failure to Appear for Testing — articulates three successive penalties for failing to appear for drug testing:

  1. $25,000 fine & placed into the Intervention Program
  2. Fine in the amount of two-seventeenths (2/17th) of Paragraph 5 in Player Contract (i.e. 2/17th of Bell’s yearly base salary)
    • 2013: $405,000
    • 2014: $495,000
    • 2015: $687,882
  3. Four game suspension without pay
    • The former Michigan State star’s 2016 base salary is $966,900

However, at least stemming from what was previously reported, it is not evident that Bell missed any prior drug tests and, therefore, was previously fined. With that being said, simply because it was not reported does not mean that it did not happen. Put another way, Bell could have been fined twice without it being leaked to the media. Well, it turns out that over the weekend NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Bell previously missed “several” drug tests.  Translation: He missed “two” drug tests.

Appeal

The NFL is a private entity and bound by the laws of private association. Therefore, the NFL must give Bell an opportunity to be heard. Section 4.2 of the Policy  notes that the player must present the violation, or grievance, to the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) within five business days “of when he knew or should have known of the grievance.” Thereafter, the NFLPA must present the grievance to the designated third-party arbitrator “no later than thirty (30) calendar days after the Player’s presentment of the grievance to the NFLPA.”

On Monday, Bell confidently noted — in an Instagram comment of all things — that he will not miss any games during the 2016-17 season.

“I’m not going to miss games, trust me. … I’m gonna win the appeal…ppl have no idea what happened, but don’t worry…let em hate,” Bell wrote directly to a fan. “When I end up missin no games at all, ppl for sure gonna try to love me again and I’m only ridin with my LOYAL fans!!”

Source: ESPN

The difficulty with Bell’s assertion is that the Policy does not directly articulate how to successfully appeal a missed drug test. That is, the Policy details how a player may successfully appeal a positive drug test, but it makes no mention of appealing a missed drug test. Still, Bell must show that there was a “deviation from the Collection Procedures with credible evidence.”

Nevertheless, there is a pre-hearing discovery where Bell will “submit a statement setting forth the specific grounds upon which the appeal is based with supporting facts in the form of proffered testimony or documentary evidence.” Within three business days of the hearing’s conclusion, the arbitrator will issue his or her ruling and then further issue a formal written opinion within ten days of the hearing’s conclusion.

Altogether, Bell faces an uphill battle to play Week 1 against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.

UPDATE:  Stan Savran, a Pittsburgh 970 AM ESPN radio host, reported that Bell changed his phone number, which lead to the drug test collector/administrator unable to get in touch with Bell. Of course, a tweet storm ensued from the Twitter community. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but, per the Policy, Bell’s excuse will probably not hold up. “Hey Professor Goodell, my dog ate my homework; can I get an extension on the paper?”

If a Player fails to provide the Medical Advisor with an address and telephone number where he can be contacted, and, as a result, such Player cannot be contacted when the Medical Advisor requires that a Test be administered or the Player cannot be contacted at the address and telephone number provided to the Medical Advisor, the Player’s failure to notify the Medical Advisor or inability to be contacted will be subject to discipline as set forth below.

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