I’ve heard it said that the demographic with no seat at the table in the battle between the NFL and the NFLPA are the current and future first round draft picks. There are predictions that, when the NFL does return, we won’t see any more JaMarcus Russell-type contracts for unproven players. Maybe that’s what they call “progress.”
But there is another demographic that has no voice at the table: the players who choose to rely only on their training and talent to win on Sunday.
Sadly, no lawyer, no active players, no coaches or owner is clamoring for a full and complete independent analysis of what players put into their bodies. Could it be that the owners want bigger, stronger and faster players who recover from injuries sooner? Like Captain Renault in Casablanca “I am shocked, shocked” at this suggestion!
Recently I spoke with a retired player with a few Super Bowl rings and he said “I think for a long time the biggest advocates for testing were the NFLPA, now I’m not sure that’s true.”
I’m not buying the notion floated last week, and today, that the NFL is considering having the World Anti-Doping Agency administer drug testing. That seems like too much of a scare tactic and the NFL is simply raising the specter of WADA as a threat to get the union back to the bargaining table. I’ll believe the NFL when I hear such a measure has been formally proposed and the owners have spent some political capital to make it a reality.
Both the NFL and the player’s union have previously resisted third-party testing. The NFL argues that without a union to provide checks and balances, a third party is now needed to maintain credibility and transparency.
But my sense is there is a group of current players — and maybe it’s just a minority — who would embrace transparency and accountability. They don’t cheat. They don’t look for an unnatural advantage. They don’t seek out a Dr. Frankenstein to craft some compound that is just outside the parameters of acceptable substances.
I don’t know the answer to what should be acceptable or not. Perhaps the solution to some players gaining an advantage is for the NFL to remove all barriers and let players take anything they want. That would at least level the playing field.
But until that day, logic and reason suggest there are players who wouldn’t mind giving a blood sample to a reputable, trusted independent body. They wouldn’t mind reasonable penalties for a first time offender and something more severe for a repeat offender.
In the wake of Sports Illustrated’s damning Lance Armstrong article, it’s time to reflect on what football can do to remain a leader in — and enhance — its testing of athletes. Maybe no test would catch everything but something more than what we have today seems prudent.
And, more importantly, fair.