Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, warned that if the state laws prevail and trump federal law, the ensuing result would complicate enforcement of suspensions and would threaten progress on steroids in sports at all levels of competition.
"If the rulings are taken to their logical conclusions, players on one team could be allowed to use drugs that would subject players on another team to suspensions and fines," Waxman said. "These new legal interpretations could render the NFL and Major League Baseball drug testing programs unenforceable, loophole-ridden and unacceptably weak and ineffective."
Waxman said if the courts do not rule that collective bargained drug policies can stand against state laws, congressional action could be necessary.
"We should not allow the drug policies that the NFL, Major League Baseball and other sports leagues have put in place to be rendered null and void," Waxman said. "That is an invitation to steroid abuse in professional sports. And it will inevitably lead to more steroid use."
Smith said he believes best method to ensure that the collectively bargained policy does not conflict with state law is for the NFL and the players union to draft language in the new collective bargaining agreement, which is currently under negotiation.
"We are confident that we can effectively work through the collective bargaining process with the league to implement changes that will better protect our players, ensure the uniform application of the drug testing policy, and strengthen the integrity of that policy," Smith said.
Goodell testified that the application of state laws to professional athletes threatens to undermine the collective bargaining process.
"We support narrow and specific legislation that would confirm the primacy of federal labor law and respect agreements on this important subject," Goodell said. "We are committed to maintaining a level playing field in the NFL, protecting the health of our athletes, ensuring public confidence in the integrity of the game of professional football, setting a positive example for young people, and working together with the NFL Players Association to continue to refine our steroid policy."
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., suggested that if Congress does not act to close the ambiguity, perhaps the NFL should act itself.
"Do we need to draft a national drug testing policy to be imposed on all major league professional sports?" Terry asked. "If that's necessary, let's begin to work Mr. Chairman. Otherwise, if you don't think it's necessary, maybe it's necessary that major league sports pull out of the states that claim that their state laws will supersede the collective bargaining. Maybe Minneapolis without the Vikings is the appropriate remedy."
Goodell asked the subcommittee what would happen if another Minnesota player tests positive for a banned substance, predicting that any subsequent performance enhancing drugs violations in Minnesota would be challenged in state court just like the StarCaps case.
"This is not a potential problem. This is an existing problem," Goodell said. "And all of us have to deal with this now. It cannot wait. This is a health problem now, and we believe it should be addressed now."
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, warned Goodell and Smith of the repercussions of congressional action.
"You don't want us to get involved with this," Rush said. "You don't know what Congress will do once you open Pandora's box."