NFL representatives are scheduled to appear before a congressional committee next week in a hearing on the sport's steroid policies.
The House Government Reform Committee announced it will conduct the hearing next Wednesday morning. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Players Association chief Gene Upshaw are among the witnesses scheduled to testify.
"I'm not worried about this," Upshaw said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We started looking at this as far back as 1987. It's nothing new to us. We're not resisting change because we've always accepted it if it made sense to the program. You never look forward to these things, but we'll be there."
Upshaw also said that the union and league are discussing the possibility of increasing the frequency of steroid tests of players during the offseason, and are contemplating making additions to the list of substances banned under the policy.
The committee held a contentious hearing in March in which former Major League Baseball players testified about steroid use. MLB executives are considering appointing an independent counsel to study the sport's handling of steroids, following a meeting last week with lawmakers, according to a person familiar with the meeting. The New York Times first reported the meeting yesterday.
After the baseball hearing, the committee, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), had the NFL and other sports leagues and governing bodies submit documents detailing their steroid policies.
"A public review of the NFL's strategy for combating steroid use marks the next step in our investigation," Davis said in a written statement. "Examining the effectiveness of the NFL's policy is a key part of understanding why 500,000 high school students today have tried steroids."
The committee's ranking minority member, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), said in a written statement: "Steroid use in America is a significant problem. . . . I believe this hearing will help us learn more about how pervasive it is, and whether the NFL's policy is as effective as it could be."
Harold Henderson, the league's executive vice president of labor relations, also is scheduled to testify before the committee.
"We have fully cooperated with all aspects of the committee's inquiry and look forward to next week's hearing as a further step in that process," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations.
In the past, lawmakers and drug-testing experts have hailed football's steroids-testing program as the toughest in professional sports. Players are subject to random testing year-round. All players are tested at least once per year in training camp, and seven players from each team are selected randomly each week during the season for testing. A first-time offender is subject to a four-game suspension without pay.
But the policy has been under renewed scrutiny after a recent "60 Minutes Wednesday" report that three Carolina Panthers players had steroids prescriptions written by a South Carolina physician filled within two weeks of playing in the Super Bowl in February 2004. That physician, James Shortt, reportedly has had his license suspended by the South Carolina board of medical examiners.
"We have a steroid policy," Upshaw said. "It's in place, and we're proud of it. We've always said it's not perfect. But we've also said that as science and technology change and these things come out in the marketplace, we'll address it and we'll also try to stay ahead of it."
NFL and union representatives have been discussing several possible changes to the sport's steroid policy as part of their annual review of the drug-testing programs. The union has approved a proposal by the league to lower the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for testosterone to keep the NFL's standards in line with those of the International Olympic Committee.