NFL officials meet with WADA
NFL officials met last week with representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency to discuss a wide range of topics that included testing for human growth hormone and the implications of the "StarCaps" case.
The meeting was held at WADA's offices in Montreal, officials said Tuesday.
The discussions came at a time when the league and the NFL Players Association have been at odds over several issues related to their collectively bargained policy on banned performance-enhancing drugs.
NFL officials have said they might consider turning over control of their steroid-testing program to WADA or a federal agency in the future if they cannot continue to run it effectively in cooperation with the players' union.
Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president of labor policy and player development, declined to say Tuesday whether the possibility of the league's testing program being run by WADA in the future was discussed during last week's meeting in Montreal.
"This was part of an ongoing effort to strengthen our relationship with WADA and find ways we can work together," Birch said. "We've done it before."
Birch said the NFL would prefer to continue to run its own program with the union.
"First and foremost, we want to maintain a strong and effective policy that has the full support of our players and our union," Birch said. "That is our primary goal. We've had some issues in that respect, and we are looking at every opportunity to ensure our policy is meaningful. But our first priority is certainly to come to an agreement with the union."
The league has run its own steroid-testing program in cooperation with the players' union for two decades. The NFL's drug-testing program generally has been praised in the past by Capitol Hill lawmakers as being the best in professional sports.
But the NFL and the union clashed over the administration of the program in the StarCaps case, in which the league has been prevented by court rulings from enforcing its four-game suspensions of two Minnesota Vikings players for testing positive for a banned diuretic.
In addition, the union thus far has not agreed to a proposal by the NFL by which players would be blood-tested for HGH.
Birch said the discussions that took place during last week's meeting with WADA left him increasingly convinced that blood-testing of players for HGH could be done effectively in the NFL.
"I am increasingly comfortable it could be done in a way in which any difficulties would not be too onerous," Birch said. "It could be done."
HGH is on the NFL's list of banned substances but players are not tested for it. There is no reliable urine test for it and the union has not agreed to the league's proposal, made during the two sides' labor negotiations, for blood-testing. Players have raised concerns about privacy and safety.
The union has announced that it is willing to discuss the proposal with the league.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at an owners' meeting last month that he was "hopeful" the union would agree to blood-testing.
"We will continue to press that in negotiations," Goodell said then.
Goodell did not attend last week's meeting with WADA, officials said. Goodell did attend a meeting with WADA last year.
Jeff Pash, the league counsel and NFL executive vice president of labor, first raised the possibility last September of the league's testing program being turned over to WADA.
Pash said then that "it doesn't serve anyone's interests to have a program like this fragmented by wide-ranging state laws."
Pash was referring to the StarCaps case. NFL officials have been critical of the union's handling of the matter, accusing it of failing to properly support the collectively bargained drug-testing program. Union officials have said they support the program but sought in the StarCaps case to ensure that it was administered fairly.
A judge in Minnesota last month kept the four-game suspensions of Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams on hold pending the players' appeal to a state appeals court. The league has attempted to suspend the players for testing positive for the diuretic bumetanide, which is on the league's list of banned substances as a possible masking agent for steroids.
In the long-running case, the players maintained they ingested bumetanide unknowingly by taking the weight-loss product StarCaps, and charged officials associated with the league's testing program with improperly withholding prior knowledge that StarCaps contained bumetanide. The NFL denied wrongdoing.
The players and the union filed lawsuits. A federal judge rejected most of the claims in the lawsuits but sent some claims by the players involving Minnesota workplace law back to state court to be resolved there.
Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson ruled last month that the NFL violated state workplace law in the case but the two Vikings players were not harmed by that. Larson later ruled to keep the NFL's suspensions on hold pending the players' appeal. The NFL asked the U.S. Supreme court to review the federal court's ruling that sent some claims to the state court.
Some drug-testing experts have said that the court rulings in the case have left athletes in Minnesota subject to a different set of drug-testing standards than athletes elsewhere.
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