Would the NFL Trade Marijuana for HGH?

The NFL wants to test for human growth hormone. The players want rules banning marijuana use relaxed. Is there a compromise to be made? It's more complicated than that, but several bridges to resolution are on the horizon

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·

Marijuana and HGH. There appears to be at least a chance of a tradeoff in NFL enforcement of the two, as the league and union bicker over potential changes in current drug-testing protocols. While marijuana has long been banned and subject to discipline, HGH is perceived as giving players more of a competitive advantage than marijuana, is currently untested and realistically in use to some extent by NFL players without consequence. With ongoing discussions concerning revisions to the drug programs, there is hope a deal can be struck to adapt marijuana discipline to the times while (finally) coming to some resolution on HGH. Based on the NFL-NFLPA history on HGH testing, however, that might be overly optimistic. Let’s examine.

Momentous Announcement … or Not

On Aug. 4, 2011, the official signing of a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was accompanied by another historic announcement: the NFL was to be the first major professional sports league to implement testing for Human Growth Hormone. Coupled with the news of the end of a convoluted lockout and the re-starting of football, the NFL and its players—caught up in the horse-trading in the frantic conclusion of CBA negotiations—announced this bold step to curb the use of a drug creating, at some level, artificial and unfair advantages for players.

As I often say: that was then, this is now. Nearly three years since the announcement, HGH is not a banned substance in the NFL. In the meantime, Major League Baseball and its players association agreed to HGH testing in January 2013, becoming, in actuality, the first major professional sports league to ban its use. As to the reasons for lack of implementation over these three years, the NFL and NFLPA give the exact same response: “Blame them!”

Population Study

In a 1991 issue of SI, Lyle Alzado blamed steroid and HGH use for causing a fatal brain tumor. He died in 1992. (Peter Read Miller/SI)
In a 1991 issue of SI, Lyle Alzado blamed steroid and HGH use for causing a fatal brain tumor. He died in 1992. (Peter Read Miller/SI)

The NFL’s implementation of HGH testing has always required union consent, which has proved more difficult than envisioned. The arguments and delay on HGH testing has been a microcosm of the palpable lack of trust between NFL and NFLPA leadership before, during and now after the CBA negotiations.

Until recently, the NFLPA’s primary opposition to proposed HGH testing had been the samples of population studies used for thresholds. The union objected to such thresholds traditionally used by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), maintaining they were designed with more slender body types in mind, such as Olympic athletes, and would lead to an abundance of false positives applying to the musculature of elite professional football players. After much haggling, the NFL allowed for different population sampling, removing that hurdle and resolving the NFLPA’s concerns about the population study. 

So … what’s the issue?

The Conduct Commissioner

We have arrived at a déjà vu moment in NFL-NFLPA labor relations: debating commissioner power over player conduct.

Once the totality of the new drug-testing program is implemented, there will not only be HGH testing but also an independent arbitrator handling appeals for positive samples, chain of command protocols, ratios triggering positive tests, etc. However, for behavior surrounding the testing, Commissioner Roger Goodell will not relinquish appeal power. 

Examples of such misbehavior could be actions similar to those alleged against MLB’s Alex Rodriguez—bribes for incriminating evidence in the Biogenesis case—or those alleged against Denver’s Von Miller and dealings with a corrupt sample collector. Goodell is insistent on retaining appeal power over cases such as this, more about conduct than science. And no word defines the tenure of Goodell more than “conduct.”

With measures such as the Personal Conduct Policy, Goodell has made it his mission to impose his somewhat pristine yet sincere belief that NFL players (and owners, with all eyes now on his pending treatment of Jim Irsay) have a higher moral obligation. Goodell once told me: I’m willing to give up the appeal power over drug testing, but not over conduct. That rings true now.

NFLPA officials have tried before, during and since the 2011 CBA to curb Goodell’s conduct powers. I remember one top union executive telling me Goodell had “jumped the shark” with overreaching player discipline. However, that bargaining priority was sacrificed to make gains elsewhere. Now the union, using the leverage of the NFL’s long-desired HGH testing, attempts to do what collective bargaining could not: limit commissioner power by removing him from all drug-testing appeals, even conduct-related.

Bridges to Resolution? 

While tempering any optimism with the reality of a proven lack of trust between the two sides, it is encouraging that the NFL and NFLPA have opened discussions to adjust/amend/revise the drug policies. Here are a couple of areas ripe for change with potential for concession and compromise. They are:

Marijuana

Painkiller Problem

Do ex-players have a case? Michael McCann breaks down the NFL’s possible defense in the painkiller lawsuit and how marijuana could factor into it. FULL STORY

NFL standards are stricter than those in other sports as well as those in other professions, and ESPN reported on a potential willingness by the league to raise thresholds for a positive test. The societal stigma of marijuana use is also slowly dissipating, with legalized use in Washington and Colorado—home of this past season’s Super Bowl participants—and growing tolerance nationwide.

However, the NFL is not as progressive as the state legislatures of Washington or Colorado. And while Goodell gave a glimmer of hope to potential therapeutic use of medicinal marijuana in a January interview, his tone changed dramatically at the Super Bowl press conference. NFL players will not be freely lighting up anytime soon.

Perhaps, however, there exists an opportunity for a trade here: the NFL loosens thresholds and/or penalties for positive marijuana tests in exchange for the NFLPA agreeing to the final issue regarding HGH testing: Commissioner appeal power over conduct-related issues.

While potential resolution is more complicated than the above deal, it presents a bridge to resolution.

DUIs

While there is a sense the NFL might relax penalties on marijuana use, an opposite sentiment is growing on use of alcohol when driving. Pro Football Talk reported that another issue in play with the revised drug policies involves first-offense DUI offenses. Currently, the policies call for a two-game fine—and no suspension—for a first-offense DUI, with suspensions rare except for repeat offenders. A proposed rule would impose a one-game suspension for a first-time offense.

After the tragic accident in December 2012 that killed Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown, a passenger of his drunken teammate Josh Brent, this is an issue meriting greater attention. And it seems to have bilateral support from both the NFL and the NFLPA amidst the swirl of policy revisions on the table.

Confidentiality

Another potential passage to change might come from discussed changes in situations like the recent suspension of the Colts’ Robert Mathis. In a rare diversion from its usual silence regarding drug suspensions, the NFL responded to public comments from Mathis and his agent regarding his sympathetic situation. The league responded by noting that the drug policies were collectively bargained by the league and the union and called for consistent enforcement, no matter the individual circumstances.

NFL executives privately express frustration that players and agents can openly discuss positive test circumstances while the league is restricted due to confidentiality limits. They would like to even out the public message.

Similarly on the issue of confidentiality, the NFLPA has concerns about negative information leaks. Specifically, they have alleged, “bad-mouthing” by teams on players such as Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) and DeSean Jackson (Eagles) and have investigated, although with nothing further announced.

In this combustible mix of information and potential improved transparency, perhaps a mutually beneficial result could ensue.

As I often say, everything’s negotiable. Changes could be afoot regarding treatment of HGH, marijuana and drunk driving, as well as revisions in the strict confidentiality guidelines for both sides. Maybe by the third anniversary of the announcement of HGH testing, on August 4, 2014, we will actually have it implemented. Maybe.

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36 comments
Buck2185
Buck2185

Richard Sherman doesn't care what they do as long as they don't ban Aderrall. Can you imagine  him in an interview not being hopped up on it - he might sound like a human....

skanee00
skanee00

Drugs make people lazy and stupid. You're wasting your life if you touch any of that crap.

Mike26
Mike26

This is a bad trade; I understand business and compromise but allowing more marijuana use is NOT the answer to getting the HGH testing done.

jsnow72
jsnow72

Long overdue that marijuana is legalized. It's time to allow adults to determine what they want to put into their bodies. If that person decides to drive drunk or high, then they face the legal consequences. I truly believe that marijuana is better than any of the pharmaceuticals that most people routinely use. 

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Would they trade for some good old fashioned COMMON SENSE? Then again, if it's so common why is it so rare?! HA! 

inthepresent
inthepresent

"HGH is perceived as giving players more of a competitive advantage than marijuana"  (emphasis mine)


wait, what?! 


more? 

what competitive edge does marijuana give, pray tell? 

Whatever
Whatever

Regardless of laws in Colorado and Washington, marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law. The NFL operates nationally, and therefore it must have a national drug program. 

Regardless, HGH testing, which was already agreed upon by the NFLPA and NFL, should in no way be tied to any other issue, marijuana, DUI, or otherwise. HGH testing is much more important at this time, and I believe the NFLPA is blocking implementation not for any supposed procedural matter but because it knows a lot of players are using HGH either regularly or for injury recovery. The marijuana issue should be left to states to sort out its legality, and then the NFL can react accordingly.

GregPasqualeDonker
GregPasqualeDonker

Pot does nothing for their on/off field performance (aside from potential legal trouble, silly as i may be its still the law) while HGH/testosterone boosters/roids may more may not be harmful it definitely is an unfair advantage to honest players thus cheating.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

again let's remember were really to believe the nflpa as in the cba agreement they held a joint press confernence when the cba was agreed to the nflpa agreed to the hgh testing and then right before it was to be implemented they blocked it.  here's a simple fact, smith doesn't want hgh testing as he wants to protect the cheaters in his union, much like fehr did with the mlbpa on ped testing, it was fehr who blocked it, as the majority of the player reps wanted it, but fehr blocked it

HarshRealities
HarshRealities

IF the NFLPA had its way, no player would ever face discipline for anything!

Brett_Buck
Brett_Buck

Throw them out forever for either one. I don't want to see a bunch of stupid dopers. 

cbrpriv
cbrpriv

These kinds of compromises are why the country is going down the drain in every way.  Sometimes, compromise is not the answer -- integrity is.

Pat11
Pat11

NFL players need to man up and give the population study already. Everyone knows most of em use. A bunch of artificially enhanced science experiments. Just last week Mathis gets caught and says its because he has low hormones but everytime it comes testing time they all supposedly have 10x the testosterone of meer mortal men. Time to prove all us wrong and take the population study.

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

In the absence of HGH testing in the NFL, the real losers are the majority of NFL players who don’t use HGH and are thus at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who unfairly do.My understanding is that the league has already made major concessions re: game day testing, third party arbitration over some tests, and a population study, among others.If so, then why can’t the players’ union simply concede that the NFL Commissioner should retain his longstanding appellate oversight of legal and evidentiary cases arising from matters like these?As Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and not some third-party arbitrator, is ultimately responsible for protecting the game’s integrity.That’s non-negotiable.As with any negotiation, there are trade-offs.The NFLPA needs to learn, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

Wombat
Wombat

I don't really care one way or the other but I keep going back to the Spicoli character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I remember a few Spicoli's in my high school... just can't wait to see a Spicoli trying to play wide receiver for the Browns after a few nights of partying... should be good for a laugh.

jambandmentality
jambandmentality

LEGALIZE MARIJUANA...

It a 1000000 x's safer then Alcohol, and using opioids for pain management. It's actually a crime not to

Daryl Pienta
Daryl Pienta

Legalize it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Buck2185
Buck2185

They might as well allow marajuana use, they let Richard Richard Sherman run around hopped up on adderral...

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@Mike26 Why are you so against it? You prefer synthetic, addictive opium-based drugs for pain for these guys?


And what makes you think states will be SO slow to legalize it? Have you seen the tax revenue for Colorado? Is there rampant crime? Is everyone quitting their jobs? I'm confused why you seem to be so "Reefer Madness" about the ganja. Isn't alcohol worse? We seem to be doing fine as a society with alcohol being legal. There are two main strains (sativa & indica) of marijuana, it's not all "couch/lazy" weed. In my belief it's an asset that society isn't utilizing correctly based mostly on ignorant scare tactics from the past. Not to mention all the research we could be conducting on it to possibly help some major medical problems down the road (which it has shown to have positive effects in overseas studies).

Mike26
Mike26

@jsnow72 No thanks - and it will be generations before this "movement" reaches more than a few states.  

FDowney
FDowney

@inthepresent It's got some benefit as a painkiller, although I'm sure your average NFL trainer has (legal) stuff that's more powerful.

Pat11
Pat11

@Whatever Agreed, Maybe let em get high in the offseason but from week one to end of each players season keep testing for all drugs. No coach or owner is gonna agree that a player high on weed is performing at their best, I bet if Peyton, Brady or Brees played high their stats would go down. My brother was a pitcher who was the ace of thehis team and shotouts were common for him in the state tourney, but he was high most games and ruined his arm because it masked the pain and he did long term damage to his arm. If he wasnt high he probably would of stopped and rested his arm instead of damaging his elbow. 

Mike26
Mike26

@GregPasqualeDonker Pot is illegal in 48 of 50 states.  It's not as silly as you may think - and others states are not rushing to add it to any ballot this November or next.

Mike26
Mike26

@CobyPreimesberger coby, I saw a PERIOD in your post!  My Gosh!  This is illuminating?  Are you FINALLY starting to write above a 2nd grade level?  At this rate, you MIGHT be at a 7th grade level by 2018!  


Now, if you could only add some sentence structure too....

HeyJoe
HeyJoe

@Wombat You don't need to wait, just watch a few Josh Gordon highlights from last season.

Whatever
Whatever

@jambandmentality Actually, it's not a crime to not use marijuana. Federally, it's a crime to use marijuana, as it is in most states. And someone operating a motor vehicle high is no better than someone operating a motor vehicle drunk.

adoseofdoby
adoseofdoby

@Mike26 why are you so against it? Not cool enough to do it in high school or something?

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