Two sports leagues – the NFL and MLB – engaged in grandstanding last week by announcing proposals designed to curry favor with the media and fans but had little chance of ever becoming reality.
The NFL needs all the favorable publicity it can get, having taken it on the chin at every turn in its ongoing labor dispute with the players. So the league announced that since there was no union in place – the players having decertified in an effort to prevent the league from locking them out – the owners were free to unilaterally implement a drug testing procedure rather than negotiating the terms of drug testing with the players under the provisions of U.S. labor law. If the lockout is lifted, as the players contend in court it should be, the NFL said it was considering turning the league’s drug testing procedures over to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
If that were to happen it would be a first. No professional sports league in this country has handed the reins of drug testing over to WADA, and for good reasons. Drug testing for professional sports leagues is mostly a sham, designed to keep Congress and the media off their backs. In contrast, WADA takes drug testing seriously, testing in and out of season, frequently and without notice, and requiring athletes to let them know of their exact location months in advance. Under WADA rules, if the collection police show up and you aren’t where you said you were going to be, you’ve effectively failed a drug test.
WADA also utilizes blood tests, which is anathema to all unions on the grounds that it’s an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Of course, they’re right, but so is the sexual assault that currently passes for passenger screening at our nation’s airports. But we live in different times than existed in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was drafted.
There’s no telling how many NFL players use substances – including HGH – the league doesn’t test for, but WADA does. And the WADA penalties are much more onerous than those agreed to in the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), beginning with a one year suspension for a first violation under WADA rules, versus four games under the CBA. With WADA in charge of drug testing, the NFL talent level would sink to the level of the CFL or the UFL.
The reality is no league – owners or players – wants drug testing, at least not the kind that works. The NFL’s threat to turn drug testing over to WADA is mere posturing, something the players need not take seriously.
MLB also made headlines by suggesting that Commissioner Bud Selig wants the authority to impose discipline on players who are involved in alcohol related incidents. Abusing alcohol, then getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and/or engaging in violence, is definitely a problem in MLB. Six MLB players have been cited for driving under the influence since January. But alcohol abuse is also a problem in other sports as well as in society in general.
Unfortunately for Selig, the MLBPA hasn’t decertified and there’s no way the union is going to hand over discipline authority to the commissioner. If Selig attempts to unilaterally impose sanctions, the union will surely file a grievance – and almost certainly win, creating hard feelings between players and management that could adversely impact current negotiations on the next CBA.
A cynic might suggest that MLB has forfeited the right to discipline players. When Jim Bowden, then general manager of the MLB-owned Washington Nationals, was arrested for DUI in 2006, no discipline was imposed by the league. When St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was arrested for DUI in 2007 after the police found him asleep behind the wheel of his running vehicle at a stop light, the league looked the other way. You can almost hear MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner saying to Selig, “We’ll agree to allow you to discipline players if you give us the authority to discipline executives and coaches.”
WADA in control of NFL drug testing? Bud Selig the discipline czar of MLB players? Don’t count on either happening any time soon. Recent statements by the NFL and MLB may have played well in the press, but the bottom line is both leagues were merely grandstanding.
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