The commissioner of the National Football League says the league could begin conducting blood tests on players for human growth hormone as soon as the next seven to 10 days, but the players’ union contends that protocols to ensure player safety and accuracy of the tests must be established prior to any specimens being extracted from players.
Representatives from the NFL Players Association and Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, sat down with two top lawmakers from the House Oversight and Government Reform committee today in order to reach an agreement to begin testing as soon as possible.
“We’re not guaranteeing any outcome except there was an agreement to begin testing immediately,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee. “The other aspects of what you do with the test will be resolved over the next many weeks and we’ve agreed on a bipartisan basis to have the committee play a role if necessary with getting parties together again.”
Asked whether testing could begin in the next two weeks, Goodell said “that was the chairman’s instructions,” and he claimed that “everyone around the table agreed to that.”
“The chairman was very clear that testing should begin in the next two weeks or else he will expect to see us all in here again,” Goodell said. “He expects to see us in here within 30 days under any circumstance to give an update on how the process is taking place.”
But, George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, said that while players have already agreed to the tests through the collective bargaining agreement, testing could only begin “as soon as we have a fair and safe process in place.”
“We’re going to work on a fair process here to implement HGH testing in a fair and safe way,” Atallah said. “The question of agreeing to testing is not the issue, it’s making sure that we have a fair and safe protocol.”
“Once we feel that way, which we hope will be as soon as possible … we’ll be in a position to start testing,” he added.
Asked how soon the league could begin conducting tests once the players sign off, Goodell said the facilities are in place and the league could begin tests “within one week – seven to 10 days” and he called on the players’ union to enumerate its concerns with the procedure the league has proposed.
“We agreed to it in our collective bargaining agreement,” Goodell said. “We’ve given them a comprehensive proposal that has all of these details laid out, so they need to respond to that and tell us where there’s any issues.”
One of the players attending today’s meeting, Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens, warned of the perilous ramifications on the line for players “when you’re talking about testing, blood testing them, and checking for HGH.”
“All of the players in the league have worked tremendously hard for their entire lives to get to a position where they can make a substantial living and kind of change the course of their families’ lives,” Foxworth said. “In order to make our players feel confident and comfortable with putting all of the things that they’ve worked for on the line and put it in the hands of someone else, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the test is accurate and that we’ve checked it, we’ve done our own due diligence, and we can look them in the eyes and say this is a safe and fair process.”
The hour-long, closed-door meeting, which included representatives from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, was convened by Issa and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member and top Democrat on the committee, after the NFL Players Association blocked implementation of the tests.
“We were concerned that an agreement had been made that testing would begin at the beginning of this season and it hadn’t taken place,” Cummings said. “We’re worried about kids, to be frank with you, and we’ve made that clear to [the players]. Kids are emulating the professionals, and if they see the professionals not being held to a certain standard, then they can say, ‘Well, you know, maybe we ought to do that to.’”