Apparently, some people were not impressed at the methods by which Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o shaved a tenth of a second off his 40-yard dash time from the scouting combine to his pro day a month later. The 4.71 40-yard dash he burned at the Fighting Irish's indoor facility on Tuesday, Te'o said, was just a function of getting out of his own way after more distractions than most people have to deal with.
"Don't think -- you've been doing it your whole life. Just go out there and run," Te'o told the NFL Network in an interview that was replayed on the network's "NFL AM" program on Wednesday morning. "We tend to think too much, and psyche ourselves out, thinking that bad things will happen. I just went out there and said, 'Hey -- just run. Run as fast as you can. Whatever the time says, that's what it says.'"
Former NFL offensive lineman Jamie Dukes, who now functions as the NFL Network's prerequisite Guy Who Yells A Lot About Nothing Important (every sports morning show has to have at least one, you see), had a different theory. After contributing his own rather stale efforts at the same kind of catfishing jokes everyone else has already gone with, Dukes went down a stranger path with the whole thing.
"Here's the deal," Dukes said, while comparative pictures of Te'o at the combine and his pro day were shown on the screen. "Since nobody else will say this, I'm just gonna show you this. I don't know who the guy was at the combine -- the pudgy body/soft body guy who couldn't run. All of a sudden, I see this yoked-up behemoth of a guy. Nobody's gonna say anything, and I'm not accusing anybody, but we just had a huge HGH conversation ... I'm not saying he's on anything. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. I think somebody saw what I saw, and that didn't look right. That just didn't look right to me. I just want to be on record as saying -- it's a little off."
The "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" gambit is, of course, an interesting example of conversational cowardice. One can put one's accusations out there in a public forum without appearing to take any actual responsibility for one's statements. Dukes presented no actual evidence that Te'o was taking performance-enhancing drugs. He cited no sources. He did, however, go on a national television show on the league's own network and insinuate that a high-profile draft prospect was doing something fishy. Of course, if anyone calls him on it, Dukes can say that he was just having a conversation -- it's not his fault if people read it wrong. Even if he went on the record, in his own words.
But in his own way, and certainly without specific intent, Dukes presented one of the most compelling arguments for the benefit of reliable HGH testing at the NFL level. Such testing would have reduced Dukes' own hyperbole to dust before it even started, and the fact that players can have their names blackened by such nebulous accusations is a problem that needs to be fixed.
On that same program, Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson talked about where the NFL and NFLPA are with the HGH drama.
"I'm Seattle's player rep, and I'm going to tell you right now -- yes, we want a clean playing field," Robinson said. "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."
The test the NFL wants is the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) isoform test, but the NFLPA has had concerns about that test for years. So, though HGH testing was collectively bargained into the most recent CBA, the method is still up in the air. Believe it or not, the recent fate of an Estonian cross-country skier has severely complicated the issue.
On Tuesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Andrus Veerpalu (the Estonian skier in question) should have his three-year suspension overturned after the panel decided that the sample size was not strong enough for WADA's advertised reliability. As a result, the NFLPA issued this statement:
An independent arbitration panel's decision found that the WADA isoform hGH test is unreliable. The suspension of an Olympic champion was overturned after findings that the hGH test administered by WADA is not scientifically verifiable. For almost two years, the NFL players have fought the NFL and certain members of Congress who have publicly referred to the players' insistence on scientific validity and fairness as “stalling” and “posturing.”
Today's decision validates the players' demand for scientific validity, full due process rights, and a transparent system.
Just as certainly, WADA rose to its own defense.
''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.''
The problem there is that the NFL has gone on record praising a test method that is still in question, if not fundamentally flawed at its core.
“There is a proper test,” NFL Commissioner Roger 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.”
But the lags in the technology have delayed this process far too long already. The NFL is right in that there needs to be comprehensive and viable HGH testing sooner than later. and the NFLPA is right in their defense of the correct protocol.
The reason this all feels so wrong is that the use of HGH continues in the meantime -- affecting the game in ways it shouldn't, and allowing people like Jamie Dukes to make unfounded allegations without fear of legitimate rebuttal.