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Shutdown Corner

Congress’ insistence that NFL players ‘put up or shut up’ on HGH testing ignores a few basic facts

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Elijah Cummings isn't impressed with the NFL's argument, but does he see the whole picture? (Getty Images)

The argument about HGH testing between the NFL and the NFL Players Association has been going on for a number of years. It was the major chip that Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted in the current collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2011, and it was the one major issue Goodell had to leave behind to get the season going on time after the lockout. Almost two years later, we seem to be no closer to a testing system that will satisfy both parties, and some folks on Capitol Hill are fed up with the whole thing.

"It's either put up or shut up," Maryland representative Elijah Cummings said of the players during a Wednesday interview with Jarrett Bell of USA Today. "They'll have to explain to the American public, why there's no testing. I don't think that it would be a pretty picture."

Cummings, who recently had Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith interning in his office, blames the players for the holdup.

"They are pushing our committee into a corner, where we won't have any choice but for them to come to Washington."

The NFL last put forth a proposal for testing in March, and the NFLPA has not issued a public response. I've talked with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith about where the players are with the process, and the primary issues are two: The Players Association wants a testing system that is regarded as universally reliable, and they want an independent and objective appeals process for those players who have tested positive under any system. For whatever reason, it's been tough for everyone to get on the same page.

Cummings' grandstanding aside, a recent suspension reversal that had nothing to do with the NFL on its face complicated the process. On March 26, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Andrus Veerpalu, an Estonian skier, should have his three-year suspension overturned after it was decided by a panel that the sample size and test accuracy figures put forth by WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), whose tests the NFL would like to use, were not correct and did not line up to WADA claims.

“There is a proper test,” Goodell said last September. “WADA is implementing it in the Olympics. It is being used in Minor League Baseball. It is being used in sports throughout the world, obviously cycling where it has gotten a lot of attention. The test is developed to such a point where the technology is such that the window of detection has expanded to a point where it is more reasonable to detect the use of HGH.

"As that technology evolves, we have to evolve and so does the policy. It is appropriate and I think the Players Association agrees that it is appropriate to implement that. I hope we can get that done quickly.”

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Some players actually favor a reliable testing process. (Getty Images)

That's all well and good, but the NFLPA isn't going to budge on this one, and there are a couple of precedents that give them some fairly solid ground. There were the multiple complications involved in the positive test of, and ultimately, the acquittal of, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ryan Braun. There was also the positive test of, and the subsequent reversal of, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whose Adderall test was ultimately voided because of chain of custody issues, which also ruined Major League Baseball's case against Braun.

"A lot of things went wrong on that day," Sherman told Y! Sports last December. "And that's why the results came out the way they did, because [the tester] made mistakes. If it wasn't for that, there would have been no positive test. There was nothing else to it."

In Sherman's case, his positive test was made public before he was given a chance to appeal, which is common practice among players who test positive for anything. Generally, though, the substance in question is not revealed (though it was in Sherman's case), which may actually hurt the players. If the public assumes that everyone's juiced up, any four-game suspension immediately has people thinking that someone got popped for some sort of performance enhancer. You could ask Arizona Cardinals linebacker Darryl Washington about that.

And because the lack of a reliable test puts every NFL player under the same cloud of suspicion, some players are more in favor of a test than you might think.

"I'm Seattle's player rep, and I'm going to tell you right now -- yes, we want a clean playing field," Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson recently told the NFL Network. "We want HGH out of football, but we want it done the right way. We don't know how many guys are using it, or how prevalent it is. Guys' HGH levels are going to be different, and we have to find a reliable way to test each guy, and have a third-party arbitrator we can appeal to if there's a false test. There is HGH in our game, and people have to understand -- [players] aren't going to come back as quickly, because they're not going to be taking the supplements they're used to taking. But I can't say it enough -- it has to be an even playing field. There has to be a safe way to do it where it can be a reliable test."

WADA, who lost some serious ground in the Veerpalu case, tried to clean up the mess.

"I would expect the players association to take a stance which is extremist,'' WADA director general David Howman told The Associated Press. ''What we've got to do is get to reality and not to a position that is an extremist position ... What we have to do is actually look at the decision in a very calculated, objective fashion. CAS has decided is that the test is OK and what they want is for there to be a bigger population-based study in terms of the impact of it. We'll take that on board and we'll go further."

That's great, but what you have in this case is the NFL trying to shove a not-yet-finished test down the throats of the players for expediency's sake, without an independent appeals process should the tests (or the process of the tests) prove to be fallible -- as they have so often been before.

Congressman Cummings insists that with testing, players will have "nothing to hide." but the truth at this point in time is more complicated. Cummings is either grandstanding, or he doesn't understand the full range of the situation. Either way, his "put up or shut up" response does nothing to forward the process.

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