The NFL and the players' union have agreed to toughen the league's steroid policy by lowering the threshold of what constitutes a positive test for testosterone, officials said yesterday.
"We basically have an agreement," NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said in a telephone interview. "In our annual review, we look at a lot of different things. We change things as we go along. We don't have a perfect policy, but we have a good one and we're trying to make it better."
Earlier, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the agreement after Commissioner Paul Tagliabue discussed it during an appearance in Dallas. League officials previously had acknowledged proposing the change to the union, saying the league wanted to keep its standards in line with those of the International Olympic Committee.
Under the agreement, players with a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone of 4 to 1 or higher will be considered to have tested positive. Previously, it took a ratio of 6 to 1 or higher for a positive test.
The league and union have been discussing other possible changes to the steroid program.
"As we go through this review process, we've been talking about a lot of things," Upshaw said. "We're just not ready to announce anything else yet."
In an interview last week, Upshaw said the union was prepared to agree to changes to toughen the steroid policy "to eliminate the cheaters." The two sides annually review drug testing policies, but those deliberations have been under increased scrutiny since a recent report that three Carolina Panthers players filled steroid prescriptions -- some for testosterone cream -- within two weeks of playing in the Super Bowl in February 2004.
On Friday, the NFL submitted documents detailing its steroid testing program to a congressional committee. The House Government Reform Committee, which conducted last month's hearing on Major League Baseball's steroid issues, requested the information from the NFL and other sports leagues and governing bodies.
Safety Under Review
Representatives of the league and the union met yesterday in New York to continue their discussions on player safety issues.
Members of the competition committee have made safety one of their focal points this offseason, and have had a series of discussions on the topic with players and union leaders. Team owners, on the recommendation of the competition committee, approved several rules changes at last month's league meetings aimed at making the game safer, including banning several types of blocks that were regarded by players as dangerous.
Yesterday's meeting came in the aftermath of the death of former Panthers defensive lineman Al Lucas, who was pronounced dead at a Los Angeles hospital soon after suffering an apparent spinal cord injury during an Arena Football League game Sunday.
"Obviously that was a tragedy," said Upshaw, who also heads the AFL Players Association. "We all understand that. We've already looked at that. I don't know that there's anything more you can do to prevent that type of injury. Al Lucas has probably made that tackle 100,000 times. You turn your head slightly one time, and you end up paralyzed. We've had it happen in our league. All of us who have played are lucky it hasn't happened to us. We're all lucky it hasn't happened more."