With Congress trying to coerce the NFLPA to honor its agreement to proceed with HGH testing, the NFL could be tempted to sit back and watch the union squirm.
That may not be the best strategy.
Last week, Charley Casserly of CBS reported that public hearings would entail testimony from players regarding HGH use, starting with Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman. But it’s far more complicated than that.
The process could — and likely would — commence with multiple interviews and depositions, all conducted behind closed doors. Players would be grilled about past instances of abuses of HGH and other banned substances. They’d be asked to comment under oath on the prevalence of their use, and whether any personnel within the organizations are supporting the behavior. And specific situations that have never been fully investigated, such as the employment by the Steelers of a doctor who embraced HGH use, could become major points of interest for Congress.
Quickly, the exercise could generate the kind of testimony that could hurt the league and the game itself, especially if there’s any evidence that coaches, trainers, or others knew about and/or supported HGH use.
To avoid this outcome, the onus falls on the NFL to force the NFLPA to proceed with HGH testing. Given the union’s commitment to do so in the new CBA, the NFL has legal options at its disposal to attempt to compel the union to follow through on its commitment. If the NFL chooses not to use them, any efforts of Congress to drag the NFLPA to the needle kicking and screaming could result in plenty of mud getting kicked onto the league.
Still, things could get worse for the union, specifically for its leadership. For Congress, the question eventually will change from what can we do to get you to the table to what are the real objections to testing?
A separate question is whether the union is providing incomplete information regarding the manner in which the situation could play out. The players may not realize that some of them will end up under a hot light, with the possibility of being charged with perjury or lying to Congress or all sorts of other possible crimes. Thus, if the union plans to drag its feet, the union may be doing so at the expense of some of the players being forced to testify and be prosecuted.
Along the way, the goal likely will be to get the union, and the players, to reassess their positions. To keep Congress from creating a mess for everyone, Congress likely will need to see signs that the parties are working together in good faith, including concrete steps like enforcement of the agreement to collect samples, or even a firm commitment to do so once specific information desired by the NFLPA is received.
So while the ability of Congress to force HGH testing would entail a longer process that would require the crafting and passage of legislation, Congress has the ability via private and public questioning to explore whether the NFLPA’s motivations are genuine. The effort could begin with a request for documents, including but not limited to emails between the NFLPA and players or agents regarding, for example, the real reasons for resisting HGH testing and any concerns articulated by players, agents, or the union regarding HGH testing.
Thus, the NFLPA’s strategy could cause significant problem for the interests of all players — and for the interests of specific players who are invited to meet with Congress. If the NFL doesn’t take steps to force the NFLPA to make good on its promises, the league faces a potentially serious threat to the game.