NFL Commish Asks Congress for Help Enforcing Drug Testing Policies

The commissioner of the National Football League asked Congress to amend federal labor law in order to stop state laws from interfering with the NFL's drug testing policies reached during collective bargaining.

In his second Capitol Hill visit in as many weeks, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that Williams vs. the NFL, a case pending in Minnesota state court better known as the StarCaps case, threatens to preempt the Labor Management Relations Act.

Goodell argued that NFL players should not be permitted to use state law to overturn league-imposed suspensions because it might give teams located in those states an advantage.

"Professional athletes and their collective bargaining representatives should not be permitted to manipulate state statutes as a means to gain a competitive advantage," Goodell told lawmakers. "The professional sports leagues cannot operate properly and maintain even competition on the field if players in one state are subject to rules in this area that vary from state to state."

During the 2008 season, five players -- two from the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and three from the New Orleans Saints -- tested positive for a substance called Bumetanide that is banned by the league after taking an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement called StarCaps.

Facing four-game suspensions for taking a banned substance, the Vikings players -- Pat Williams and Kevin Williams -- sued the NFL in Minnesota state court, arguing the league's testing violates Minnesota workplace laws.

The case moved to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court, and the NFL players union filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Williamses and the Saints players who were also facing suspension for testing positive for the Bumetanide, which is known to mask steroids in drug testing.

In May, a federal judge dismissed the union's lawsuit and several claims in the Williamses' case, but then sent the two claims involving Minnesota workplace laws back to Minnesota state court. A judge there then issued an injunction barring the NFL from suspending the players, and scheduled a trial for next spring.

NFL Drug Tests

Last month, a federal appeals court panel agreed with those decisions, in essence allowing the Williamses to continue playing while the case proceeds in state court. The NFL asked the full federal appeals court to hear the case, arguing that federal labor law should pre-empt state law, and that uniform standards are necessary for players nationwide.

Goodell says that out of fairness he decided not to enforce the suspensions of the three Saints players until the Williams case is resolved.

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, defended the players' failed drug tests, explaining that StarCaps was marketed over-the counter as an all-natural supplement, and the list of ingredients did not include any banned substances.

"The players who ingested the product did not know, nor were they ever told, that StarCaps actually contained Bumetanide, an unlisted ingredient and a prescription diuretic that is prohibited under our policy," Smith testified, adding that the NFL knew that StarCaps contained Bumetanide, but that an independent administrator failed to notify the players.

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