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HGH testing issue could be tool for reducing some of Commissioner’s power

Jeff Pash, Roger Goodell

NFL football lead counsel Jeff Pash, right, accompanied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, after a meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. to discuss HGH testing for NFL players. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)


When it comes to the issue of HGH testing, the league and the union disagree not only on how to go about doing it, but also on whether there’s reason to be optimistic that HGH testing will be implemented before the start of the 2012 regular season.

During separate appearances on Friday’s PFT Live, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash separately were asked whether they think HGH testing is coming in 2012.

“I hope so,” Smith said, “because our players want a clean game.” Smith then explained that, because the NFL didn’t immediately agree to the players’ 2011 request for a population study (although it remains debatable that a population study is necessary or useful), the process has been delayed, but the effort is moving forward.

Pash was more glum. “It would be a nice surprise,” he said. Asked whether that means he’s pessimistic, Pash said, “Well, I’m certainly not optimistic.”

The NFLPA may be optimistic that agreeing to procedures for HGH testing in time for the 2012 season could achieve concessions from the league regarding the Commissioner’s power. Because HGH testing falls within the league’s steroids policy, both the steroids policy and the substance-abuse policy remain unchanged in the wake of the new labor deal. With formal HGH testing procedures will come other revisions to the steroids and substance-abuse policies, creating an obvious opportunity to shift the appeal process away from the Commissioner (that’s unlikely to happen) or to implement more specific procedures for the appeals conducted by the league office.

Technically, every other aspect of the CBA can be revisited in connection with HGH testing. Thus, the union could seek less power and/or greater procedural protections as to other forms of Commissioner discipline, under the personal-conduct policy or (as used in the bounty case) the concept of conduct detrimental to the game.

Though the players agreed to engage in HGH testing as part of the 2011 CBA, the league has yet to show any inclination to take legal action aimed at enforcing this aspect of the deal. And so the NFLPA can continue to ride the brakes, hopeful that an eventual agreement to submit to HGH testing will reduce to some extent the sweeping power the Commissioner has enjoyed not just for the last 11 months, but for years.