First, Do No Pharm
The arrest of the Sharks' sports medicine director pulls football's drug dependency into sharp focus
The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League have not had the best May. Three consecutive losses have stalled the team's early season momentum and have led to the benching of quarterback Bernard Morris. The third loss, to San Jose at home, preceded a backstage brawl involving officials, players and coaches after the game, hinting at larger problems with the franchise going forward. It feels counterintuitive to say a team at 6-3 as of this writing is in disarray, but clearly the Sharks are having problems.
And these problems go beyond game day scrums and quarterback changes. Consider the curious case of Douglas Michael Kleiner, a 49-year-old white male who, until recently, served as the Sharks' director of sports medicine. Kleiner was arrested and charged, according to the police report, for trafficking in controlled substances, practicing or attempting to practice medicine without a valid medical license, delivery and distribution of schedule III opium or derivative, and dispensing prescription or medical drugs without a license. The timing could not be worse.
This year has been a downer for those who seek to skirt the law regarding distribution of prescription medicines. Gov. Rick Scott's administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have gone after pill mills in the way politicians so often take law-and-order stances: so they can be seen as "doing something about the problem" — which they are, in a narrow sense. However, as long as Big Pharma can make ridiculous profits from patented medicines, the true source of supply will never abate. It's easy to bust a pill mill or a team trainer; good luck going after Pfizer or Ranbaxy.
Some observers might assert a causal link between the team's underperformance of late and its pharmaceutical supply — which included favorites like hydrocodone, valium and testosterone — being interrupted. I think it would be a bit reductive to go that far without further evidence. What is clear, however, is that right when the team started to tank, players who'd become reliant on a reliable supply of these substances were deprived of fulfillment. That might lead to on-field consequences, such as the recent inability to convert on third down and a secondary who can't cover — issues the team didn't have early this season.
An irony: Two years ago, Kleiner was honored as a national Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer award recipient. Prerequisites for the award include 20 years of "distinguished service" and a "unique contribution" to the field. Kleiner was lauded as "richly deserving" of the award by the Honors and Awards Committee chair, for having "dedicated his career to providing quality health care services and to the betterment of the training profession."
It's a far cry from those laurels to what the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office arrest report states. Kleiner kept controlled substances on hand to distribute to players after night games, or so the story goes (though those who understand the sordid history of locker rooms know full well that distribution can happen before and during games, and has). According to the report, he circumvented the official chain of command, retaining substances and distributing them himself, without the intermediate step of having the team doctor oversee the administration and prescription of the drugs in each instance. And he used the team doctor's Drug Enforcement Administration registration to procure what the arrest report calls "a large amount of pharmaceutical medications."
While the illegality of that is clear, questions remain. Did he receive, at any point, implicit or explicit sanction for how he was doing business from the doctor or from team management or ownership? Did Kleiner go rogue, functioning as an independent operator for his own self-aggrandizement? Or is there something more at play here?
Football is a violent game, one whose exponents risk permanent injury on every play and court cumulative injuries with normal plays on all levels from Pop Warner to the pros. Set aside the gravity of the charges and consider an alternative interpretation. Might Kleiner's flouting of the law have been merely an expedience, to ensure the players he saw every day had their physical shortcomings mitigated so they could continue to function as the team needed?
If that's the case, questions once again are raised — about football and about our nation's approach to drug law administration and enforcement. These questions are raised from time to time, yet answers aren't forthcoming from anyone with real power. Funny how that works.