The next time an NFL player has a sensitive issue that begs to be discussed with his team's in-house support staff, will he think of Josh Freeman and wonder:
Will this remain confidential?
Maybe he'll decide not to chance it.
The revelation this week that the deposed Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback is in Stage 1 of the NFL's drug program forced Freeman to disclose he has an exemption for medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
No one should have to explain himself publicly for a medical issue if he hasn't failed a drug test that resulted in a suspension. In Freeman's case, it's bad for his marketability, too, as he sits on the trading block.
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The fallout goes deeper than the players union chief pledging to collaborate with the NFL in investigating who should be punished for the major breach. With Freeman pointing a finger at the Bucs, trust between players and teams across the league just took a wham block.
"It makes it extremely difficult," Harry Edwards, the renowned sociologist and San Francisco 49ers consultant, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. "The league is a very small fraternity. Even when it's not your sport, you can get blow-back for different events.
"When all of those names came out in baseball — all of a sudden there was a list, and this was supposed to be confidential? — I was approached by guys in basketball and football. They said, 'How are we supposed to believe in the process?'"
Edwards, speaking from his home in California, took a deep sigh.
"I don't have an answer," he said. "The reality is that there's no way to absolutely guarantee confidentiality that is 100%, ironclad secret. The CIA can't even do it. The U.S. government can't do it. They spend billions on secure information banks. And still there's stuff that leaks out."
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Bucs coach Greg Schiano flatly denied being the source. Although Schiano executed a risky move in benching Freeman for rookie Mike Glennon, there is seemingly little motivation to leak information that might devalue a trade prospect.
With the Bucs planning to shop Freeman, it's possible another team leaked the info to lower the price in obtaining a quarterback who passed for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. In any event, there will be a stiff price to pay if the leaker is found and works within the NFL. Per the league drug policy, the fine could range from $10,000 to $500,000.
Proving it is another matter. Records of e-mails, text messages and phone calls might turn up evidence or clues. Or maybe not.
Baltimore Ravens safety James Ihedigbo implores NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate.
"If he doesn't, he's not doing his job," Ihedigbo told USA TODAY Sports. "If it happened to the commissioner, of course someone would pay a penalty for it."
Typically, knowledge of whether a player is in Stage 1 of the drug program is limited to the general manager plus doctors and trainers who need to know for medical purposes.
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NFL teams also offer myriad resources outside of the drug program that rely on extreme confidentiality. Each team has at least one staff member who works in accordance with the NFL's player engagement department to ensure access to counseling and other services.
"There's a firewall between that person and everyone else in the organization," Dallas Cowboys consultant Calvin Hill told USA TODAY Sports. "Players understand that."
The Cowboys' support system includes a staff psychologist who might refer players to other professionals. Hill insists the club's management and coaches are left out of the equation, which is essential to the trust.
"I work for a guy who likes to have as much information as anybody," Hill said, referring to team owner Jerry Jones. "But he's been very respectful. He trusts us."
Hill and Edwards used the same word — firewall — to describe the separation between personal issues and football. Beyond expressing support, Edwards won't comment on 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who is on indefinite leave while in treatment for alcohol-related issues.
"It's tough to establish trust," said Edwards, who was hired by late, legendary coach Bill Walsh in 1985 and devised the model for player programs used by the league. "You get one bite at that apple."
Edwards is aware of perceptions that information can get back to club officials. A worst-case scenario: A player confides in the team's support staff, only to have that issue disclosed later — say, during contract talks.
Edwards says autonomy is a pillar for trust.
"To this day, the 49ers have never said to me, 'Doc, is there anything we need to know?'" Edwards said. "My concern is with the player, not roster issues. They are two different worlds, but they definitely intersect."
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.