Commissioner Roger Goodell, eager to sell the public on the NFL’s “integrity,” wants players to be the poster boys for a new blood test, even though scientists are divided over its reliability. As Chuck Yesalis of Penn State says, chillingly, “I wouldn’t want to have my livelihood depend on it, from what I know.”
The players, suffering from a sudden collapse of backbone and sense, are going along anyway, and have agreed to implement it by the season opener. They allowed themselves to be coerced. Guess what? It probably won’t be the last time.
Throughout the four-month lockout, players fought for their wallets, and their rights, only to cave because they are afraid of criticism if they buck the World Anti-Doping Agency. But the fact is, as Jake Scott of the Tennessee Titans points out, the WADA style of drug enforcement has some critical failings: The testing companies have no incentive to admit a mistake; confidentiality is breached all the time; and they are paid to find positive results.
“Their motives are questionable,” Scott pointed out to the Tennessean. “Their incentive is to catch people. If they don’t catch anybody, nobody thinks their test works.”
The league hopes to start testing in the first week of the regular season, pending agreement with the players on procedures. But the players should refuse to consent to the new test. Instead they should sit down with Goodell and negotiate a whole new antidrug policy — a better one. Here is what they should say:
“We believe you are a strong, forward-looking commissioner — despite our resentment of your personal conduct policies — so why not really get out in front on this issue, and work with us to create a genuinely innovative program? Let’s redesign. We will consent to random testing only if it’s confidential and without penalty, and used purely as a source of information. Let’s find out what players are abusing — when, and how, and why. Then, let’s consult the best antidrug experts — people who have had some success — and come up with a plan that will actually have real-world results, a sports version of the anti-smoking campaign, the kind of thing that will produce a change in the very soul of the athlete.”
Even the most ardent defenders of drug testing admit its main function is as a deterrent, but we have to confront the fact that the system isn’t deterring anyone. At best it’s not effective in catching cheaters, and at worst it stigmatizes the innocent.