It has taken three years but the National Football League and its players’ union, the NFLPA, have hammered out an agreement on a new policy last week that focuses on testing for performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) and the appeals process for players. In addition, the two parties are close to finalizing changes to the existing substance abuse policy. NFLPA President stated in a statement that “This is an historic moment for our players and our league. We have collectively bargained drug policies that will keep the game clean and safe, but also provide our players with an unprecedented level of fairness and transparency. Players should be proud of their union for standing up for what was best for the game.”
The NFL was close to implementing PED testing back in 2011 but questions regarding the accuracy of the science involved and the appeals process for players that tested positive caused this issue to be tabled until the recent agreement.
According to ESPN, highlights of the new policy include: blood testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which could begin as soon as the end of this month, third-party arbitration for appeals, five players – Denver Bronco Wes Welker, Dallas Cowboy Orlando Scandrick, St. Louis Rams Stedman Bailey, and Miami Dolphins Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan – reinstated this past weekend from 4 game suspensions, and new multi-game bans without pay based on the offense (up to 6-game bans for the first violation, 2 games for using masking agents, 4 games for steroid, stimulant or HGH use, 6 games for trying to manipulate the test results, a 10 game ban for the second violation, and a minimum 2 year ban for the third violation).
Positive tests for marijuana or banned stimulants, such as amphetamines, in the offseason will fall under the new substance abuse policy, rather than result in suspensions of games played. Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon and Indianapolis Colts LaVon Brazill will have their yearlong suspensions for marijuana use reduced to 10 games under the proposed new rules. The proposed substance abuse policy will include higher thresholds for marijuana use as well as harsher penalties for driving under the influence.
The revamped policies are a victory for Welker, Scandrick, Bailey, Jones, and Jordan who had contested that the previous testing methods were flawed and that the policy towards stimulants and HGH were unfair. Welker, who tested positive for amphetamines in the offseason, stated “I said it was flawed and we got it fixed. I think you know that just kind of goes to show it was flawed and it’s fixed now and we can move on from it.’’
This new drug testing policy agreement was applauded by the World Anti-Doping Agency and comes as the NFL is under increased scrutiny for the way that the league has handled recent offenses by two of its star players. Domestic abuse cases, such as the case involving former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, and child abuse cases, highlighted by charges against Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson, are prompting an adjustment to penalties for breaking the personal conduct policy.