Many fans and media members are conditioned to respond to news of the failed appeal of a player suspension by shrugging and saying, “What do you expect? The union allowed the Commissioner to be judge, jury, and executioner.”
But when it comes to positive tests under the PED policy (and positive tests under the substance-abuse policy), that’s simply no longer the case. As part of the finalized agreement that authorizes the NFL to conduct blood testing for HGH, the league (surprisingly) agreed to surrender its previously exclusive power to resolve appeals of suspensions for positive test results.
The panel of independent arbitrators for PED positive tests consists of lawyers who are jointly selected and compensated by the league and the NFL Players Association. So the player who has a strong argument that the league believes is weak doesn’t have to worry about a league executive or an independent hearing officer who really isn’t independent rubber stamping the league’s position.
As it relates to Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, it means that he had a full and fair chance to persuade a truly independent arbitrator that he shouldn’t be suspended, and that the independent arbitrator didn’t buy the arguments.
Perhaps at some point the arbitrator’s written decision will be leaked, but probably not by Edelman’s representatives. They likely don’t want the public to see that Edelman received a proper hearing from an independent arbitrator, and they likely don’t want the public to have a chance to digest the manner in which an independent arbitrator resolved a case that reportedly hinged in part on the vague notion that Edelman tested positive for “unrecognized substance.”
As previously surmised, that seemed to be a clever P.R. strategy aimed at creating the impression that the unrecognized substance possibly wasn’t a PED. However, the full context of the PED policy suggests the league determined that, even though the specific substance may not have fit within more than 70 specific anabolic compounds listed in the policy, the thing for which Edelman tested positive nevertheless had “a similar chemical structure and similar biological effect(s)” to an anabolic agent.
Regardless of the specifics, the generalities paint a clear picture: Edelman received a fair opportunity to argue his case, and a truly independent arbitrator wasn’t impressed. He’ll serve his four-game suspension, barring a highly unlikely legal Hail Mary that becomes even more difficult when the arbitrator is truly independent.