Now that Judge Nelson has kicked the NFL in its collective behind and shifted the balance toward the players in labor negotiations, we're going to start seeing a chain reaction of power plays and machinations from the league, as it works to regain leverage, and the players, as they work to capitalize on their now favored status. There have already been a few such moves, and we may be seeing another being played out by the league in regards to HGH.
One month ago, when labor negotiations were still hot and heavy, the NFL publicly took its stand in favor of an HGH testing policy in the new CBA. While HGH use is illegal in the NFL, there is currently no plan in place to actually test the players to police the ban. With the CBA in ruins, the league has seized the opportunity to hoist a testing policy on the NFLPA despite the former-union's adamant refusal to accept to a such a program. To further entrench the league's position, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has now put his money where his mouth is. In an interview Monday with USA Today, Goodell revealed that he recently went through the testing procedure himself.
"I wanted to see what was involved in the testing," Goodell said in a wide-ranging interview with the paper. "They came in here at 9:30 in the morning, completely unannounced, and I went through the procedure. The same one our players would go through."
There's little doubt that HGH is being used in the league. Our own Roy Williams admitted his use of a product containing the substance and Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham said back in 2009 that he thinks use is rampant: "I’d say a lot of NFL players are doing it [...] Any sport (where) guys come across injuries and need to get back fast and come back stronger than they were before, I wouldn’t be shocked." But despite these acknowledgments, the league has had difficulty in getting testing guidelines in place, particularly because of the NFLPA's vehement resistance. Former union leader Gene Upshaw has claimed that the procedure itself is invasive (currently HGH can only be identified through a blood test) and the results are questionable. Upshaw has said that:
"Until a test is developed for HGH, there’s really not an awful lot to talk about. When that test is developed, we really believe it should be a urine test. No one is interested in a blood test. We've got a lot of big tough guys, but even they don’t like to be pricked on the finger to give blood."
This is obviously one of the more absurd statements you'll here, and one that Goodell decided to take head-on, proving himself even tougher than the "big tough guys" by submitting to a blood test, as well as defending the increasing accuracy of the tests.
"Technology is improving," Goodell said. "It's important for us in protecting the integrity of the league, which is my No. 1 responsibility, to make sure that we have the best drug program. There are advancements in the testing methodology."
It's been speculated that, in part, the league has used their proposal for an HGH testing policy as a means of manipulating the NFLPA in negotiations, demanding of them something they don't want to give up in order to win some concessions in other areas. While testing for HGH is clearly the direction professional sports is headed in (the Olympics have been doing it since 2004 and MLB commissioner Bud Selig says he will push for it in baseball's next CBA negotiation), the timing of reports about the NFL's stance on the issue do seem a bit suspicious, particularly since we've heard little about the issue between the end of March and yesterday, the day of Judge Nelson's decision to grant the players' injunction request. It's an interesting maneuver to regain some control of the situation, but one that will likely have little effect in terms of power shifts. It's hard to see the NFLPA not giving in to a testing procedure anyway if a new CBA is worked out, especially since the players have been evoking public sympathy on a platform of healthcare reform throughout the league. A testing policy is inevitable, but in the meantime it's fun to watch all the pieces in this chess game get moved around.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Goodell's physique is o'naturale:
As for whether his sample came back clean, Goodell said the results are confidential, but added, "Let me put it this way: I'm proud of my results."