In the aftermath of both accurate and questionable reports regarding failed drug tests by NFL draft prospects, sports attorney David Cornwell has reiterated his call for penalties on reporters and news organizations for such accounts.
And if that means the league has to punish a media outlet that pays the NFL to carry games, so be it.
In a letter to Profootballtalk.com, Cornwell wrote that access to NFL-controlled events should be withheld from SI.com and reporter Tony Pauline until they reveal the source of a story Pauline wrote about Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
The story asserted that Raji had tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine. Raji and his agents have denied the report. NFLDraftBible.com reported that a total of six players had failed tests for either marijuana or steroids. Profootball.com reported Tuesday that former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, one of the six players named in the Draft Bible story, tested positive for marijuana.
Whether the reports are accurate is largely irrelevant to Cornwell, who maintains that the confidentiality of the program outweighs any media need to report test results.
"The public has no right to know information that [the] NFL has an obligation to keep confidential," Cornwell wrote. "No legitimate interest overrides a player's fundamental right to confidentiality."
Further, Cornwell argues that sources shouldn't be protected.
"It is preposterous to look the other way when players' rights to confidentiality are breached, then wave the flag for journalistic integrity to protect the people who violate those rights," he wrote.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL has not taken the stance that the media should be subject to penalties for breaching policies such as the confidentiality clause in the substance-abuse policy.
"The confidentiality requirement of the program [applies] to all employees of the NFL including the [players]," Aiello said. "… If there are inaccuracies [reported by the media], we move quickly to correct them."
Part of the problem for the NFL is that some of the same news organizations that might potentially report on failed drug tests are partners with the league. ABC/ESPN, NBC, FOX and CBS all have contracts paying billions of dollars to the NFL to televise games and all have news operations dedicated to covering the league.
Still, Cornwell said Monday that even those organizations that are rights holders to the NFL should be subject to scrutiny.
"First, I do not suggest that reporters or outlets should be shunned or punished for reporting a story," Cornwell wrote in an email to Yahoo! Sports. "I believe their access to NFL events should be restricted if the manner in which they report a story protects a person who has violated an important league policy. Similar to every other business, a reporter or organization can make their own assessment as to whether the price to pay for aiding and abetting the violation of a league policy is worth its business interest in covering league events."
"In any event, everyone [especially rights-holders] who has an interest in the NFL benefits from the NFL preserving the integrity of its testing programs. Obviously, I recognize the short-term benefit of breaking a story. However, news organizations' distinctly private and purely commercial interest in breaking a story is far outweighed by; One, players' right to confidentiality and; Two, the long-term damage to sport if testing programs lose their legitimacy. I cannot discern any legitimate public policy that is advanced by improper disclosure of confidential drug test results."
Cornwell, who was one of four finalists for the NFL Players Association executive director post, reiterated his stance about the importance of confidentiality in his letter to Profootballtalk.com.
"As a private enterprise, the NFL has wide discretion to advance its business interests. Confidentiality is THE lynchpin of every workplace drug-testing program. Repeated breaches of confidentiality threaten the legitimacy of the NFL's testing programs. It is disingenuous for the NFL to require perfect compliance from players and accept repeated non-compliance from itself. It is also disingenuous to suggest there is nothing the NFL can do about it."
Cornwell has represented NFL clients who have been penalized for violating the league's substance-abuse or performance-enhancing policies, including Ricky Williams, Shawne Merriman and Deuce McAllister.