It’s been three years of constant battles between the NFL Players Association and the NFL – recently the ‘heat has really been turned up’ – this is the first time in the history of the league that HGH testing along with revamped drug testing policies and HGH testing are so in-depth and involving multiple sources.
While the sides are working to reach an agreement before Sunday’s start to the regular season opening games, reliable sources are saying that these talks remain ‘fragile’ as they work towards the finalized revisions in policy and procedure. Both sides are cautioning that because of the sensitivity of these negotiations in the past talks have imploded and that possibility remains a real concern currently.
"Players who have been to any collective bargaining negotiation understand that we never describe them as 'very close,'" NFLPA president Eric Winston said in a statement. "We look at every issue we can to improve the rights and benefits of players. This process takes time, it takes creativity and it is never easy.
If this policy is finalized, there are some substances like Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines that will move from the current PED policy to the substance abuse policy, which is specific to positive testing during the off-season.
Currently, if a player tests positive for these substances, the first time under the current PED policy, they face an automatic 4-game suspension. New rules would include HGH testing and they would include transferring to the substance abuse program when there is a positive test during the off-season for any banned stimulant, but there would not be a suspension. However, testing positive for a banned stimulant during the in-season would still result in a 4-game suspension.
Since August 2011, there have been 29 players who have received a 4-game suspension for violating the PED policy, but these players would not be suspended under the currently proposed guidelines. In addition, there would be have been 128 appeals assigned to a third-party hearing officer rather than a commissioner's designee, and there would be 22 players who suspended for a DUI that would be fined 2-game checks and a fine of up to a maximum of 50,000. In theory, Wes Welker, Broncos wide receiver, wouldn’t have been suspended when he tested positive in May.
A key component to the negotiations is the demand the players are making that a neutral arbitrator would hear and rule on appeals of positive testing from both PED policies and substance abuse policies. One controversial element in the negotiations relates to the appeals process associated to non-positive testing that results in players being identified (i.e. the Biogenesis and Balco cases) where it is determined that the player(s) bought steroids or HGH.
Under this current non-positive PED violation proposal, Goodell would still decide on the penalty, but if a player was to appeal based on the violation of his right to due process, a 3-person arbitration panel would determine due process. If the panel ruled in the player’s favor relating to due process, then a neutral arbitrator would have the sole authority, which would be binding, to rule on the alleged non-positive test.
In 2007, an instance happened, when Goodell suspended Rodney Harrison, Patriots safety, after the NFL received information that Harrison had been identified by law enforcement officials as a purchaser of HGH through an Internet pharmaceutical company. As a result, Harrison was suspended for the first 4-games of the 2007 season. Goodell did consider banning him for a year but decided to show leniency after Harrison admitted to purchasing HGH and using it to help heal an injury.
The elements of penalty for a non-positive case like Harrison‘s remains key to a resolution. Way back in 1991, HGH was added to the NFL's banned substance list, but there was no urine test available to detect its use. Even today, HGH testing is a work in progress in all sports, not just the NFL. Even when blood samples are collected less than 1% of all athletes, globally have tested positive for human growth hormone use.
HGH testing, under the NFL's anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs policy is anticipated to begin within 10 -14 days once the two sides reach agreement. The obstacles the 2-sides are trying to resolve are sweeping changes that’s aren’t just tied to HGH testing, but also on matters related to marijuana thresholds, DUIs and due process, as well as whether the initial HGH testing will include a population study to determine suitable thresholds for players.
One sensitive issue that needs to be resolved is that involving any player who is arrested for driving under the influence. The NFL league wants to have the ability to immediately discipline players when there is a DUI arrest compared to allowing due process to run its course. According to sources, this is one reason the talks remain fragile.
The union and its players will not sign off on an overhauled drug policy without a radically altered appeals process for players that will be overseen by neutral arbitration and not by commissioner Roger Goodell, sources say.
The potential agreement would complete more than 3-years of talks, from the initial time when the NFL and NFLPA believed in August 2011 that they had an agreement in principle for HGH testing, when both sides agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement.
Since that time both sides have bickered over this issue and they have been unable to push it through. However, in the last few weeks, DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA executive director has been very aggressive in trying to get HGH testing into place for this season, and these efforts have encouraged a pending agreement.
Now, in just one week, the NFL has ratified a new domestic violence policy and, with the aid of the NFLPA, they plan to ratify an updated drug policy that includes HGH testing. This isn’t going to be cheap for team owners, who will pay for all costs associated with testing.
25-years ago, Bill Fralic a former Falcons Pro Bowl offensive lineman convinced Gene Upshaw the former NFLPA executive director that the league needed to have random steroid testing / HGH testing throughout the year and these men assisted in pushing through this new policy. Now there is hope for yet another, equally remarkable new policy for this season.
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