With the steely-eyed cool of a high-stakes poker pro, Commissioner Roger Goodell upped the ante last week in the League’s showdown with NFL players. Making a stop in Woodlawn, Maryland to speak to local high school students, Goodell fielded questions that included the hot-potato topic of performance-enhancing drugs.
Typically, a sport commissioner will drop the troublesome tater by feigning concern, then try to sell the old urine-test policy to a public that seems more than willing to buy it.
But in a move that may mark a turning-point in America’s half-baked effort to rid its sportworld of the PED plague, the NFL owners point-man used the opportunity to fire a shot across the players bow in their antitrust battle.
Not only did Roger hold-on tight to that sizzling spud, he sliced it, diced it and served it up on a silver platter for the players to feast (or choke) upon.
Proving that a life of tweets and fantasy does not a genius make, one student postulated that baseball has a bigger PED problem than the NFL. Goodell replied: “I’m not sure that’s true. We’d be naïve to think that people aren‘t trying to cheat the system. But we have to have the best testing program to be able to offset that. We need to do more, including the inclusion of HGH testing” (AP / 4-4 / Fox “Goodell Wants HGH Testing“).
By requiring that any new labor agreement with the players include a test for human growth hormone, NFL owners are also testing the jocks resolve as a fraternity and then their opposition to an expanded slate of 18-games.
For years I’d been of the mind that the owners, while not having introduced PEDs, were as culpable as the users and pushers by their tacit approval. Broadcast icon Brent Musberger’s strange and depressing take on the subject (“Brent Musburger: Steroids Could Be Good” / Huffpost / 10-6-10) reflected the enabling attitude held by nearly all in the industry.
But it’s now becoming more and more clear that it’s the players and not the owners, by way of union and tenuous claim of “intrusive(ness)” (“Derrick Mason Calls Goodell Joke” / NBC / 4-6), who steadfastly refuse to weed-out PED users through blood sampling.
Drawing the red fluid remains the only true method to test for HGH and newer drugs.
Though the NFL appears to be taking the PR high-road while both sides head back to mediation and await ruling from USD Judge Susan Nelson on the players’ motion to end the lockout (Brady v NFL), appearances can be deceiving.
Do owners want an honest game, one that sends the right message to impressionable young athletes? Of course they do. But if you think that’s their only motive in calling for an HGH test then you’d best stay away from the poker table. Bingo is more your style. Owners want an expanded 18-game schedule so badly they’re willing to expose the seamy-side of their business to get it. And sadly for the game, they probably will.
Court-ordered mediation is the prudent move. The players want a bigger piece of the revenue pie and can live with two more contests, while the NFL likely has little interest in doing the right thing by forcing a blood test on the nervous athletes.
Were Mr. Goodell resolute in his demand for “best testing,” a show of such leadership in the war on PEDs would be the stuff of a Presidential bid. And not a bad legacy-enhancer either, for that Chief Executive who likes a good fight and appreciates the cultural significance of sport.
So take a deep breath and relax, Derrick Mason & friends.
While he’s not bluffing, Roger’s not looking to take the whole pot, either. Play this hand right Mr. Quinn (players’ attorney) by conceding the 18-games and everyone will leave the table a winner. You can bet the Ferrari on it.
Keys to Sport
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.