By Bart Hubbuch
January 30, 2014 | 10:34pm
The lesson from Major League Baseball’s off-the-field pursuit of Alex Rodriguez is holding up an agreement to begin HGH testing in the NFL, the head of the players union said Thursday.
Speaking at the Super Bowl media center during his annual state-of-the-game address, NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith said a deal to start testing for human growth hormone is “98 percent done,” except for the league’s insistence on being the final arbiter in cases such as Rodriguez’s, in which the only evidence of guilt are allegations.
Smith said the NFL has agreed to let a neutral arbitrator ultimately decide all drug cases except for Rodriguez clones and cases in which a player was convicted of a drug offense but did not necessarily test positive for that drug as part of the league’s official testing program.
A neutral arbitrator ultimately decided baseball’s dispute with Rodriguez, and Smith held that up as the model the NFL should agree to follow in any similar case in football.
“Our players aren’t in favor of any of those carve-outs [where the league would have the final call],” Smith said.
Smith also warned the NFL against punishing players for the use of synthetic marijuana because that isn’t on the official list of banned substances.
“Our drug policy has strict and well-defined drugs that are banned,” Smith said. “If they are not on that list, they cannot serve as a basis for discipline. If the league wants to make modifications to that, the process is collective bargaining.”
Smith added that, with the states of Washington and Colorado making marijuana legal in recent months, the NFLPA has had preliminary talks with the league about making medical marijuana an exception or having pot removed from the banned list entirely.
Smith did indicate a thaw in the union’s testy negotiations with the league over the drug policy, changing his tune and calling the policy “the gold standard of professional sports.”
Smith also touched on other topics:
- On whether the NFLPA is open to allowing the NFL to expand the playoffs and reduce the preseason, as Commissioner Roger Goodell has discussed: “We have not seen a proposal from the league to expand the playoffs or make any changes in the preseason. If and when we do, we’ll have a position.”
- On the two main players in the Dolphins’ bullying controversy, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, lobbing charges at each other in the media: “I don’t think that any good is being served when either side plays this publicly.”