WASHINGTON — Two key congressman emerged from an hour-long meeting with the NFL and players union and announced a deal to begin blood-testing players for human growth hormone. Minutes later, union officials would commit only to testing when a fair and safe system is in place — what they’ve been saying all along.
After Friday’s high-profile mix of sports and politics, HGH testing in pro football didn’t seem closer to reality.
“We’re not guaranteeing any outcomes except there was an agreement to begin testing immediately,” Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told reporters after the meeting. “The other aspects of what you do with the tests will be resolved over the next many weeks, and we’ve agreed on a bipartisan basis to have the committee play a role if necessary” to bring the sides together again.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said he felt the two sides benefited from being called in. “Because I think they had their own disputes, and it seemed like they just could not move quite past a certain point,” he said.
He stressed that the lawmakers wanted action now: “Not get there next year — we were clear that the ball has to move down the field immediately.”
But the NFL Players Association didn’t seem inclined to move off its previous position: That it wants questions answered before moving ahead with a blood-testing program.
“We believe that we have to report back to our players, make sure that the protocol and the testing protocols are safe,” union spokesman George Atallah said, standing in the same spot as the lawmakers shortly after their news conference. “Once we feel that way, which we hope will be as soon as possible — obviously the chairman and Congressman Cummings can help us facilitate that — we’ll be in a position to start testing as soon as possible.”
Asked if the union agreed to testing this season, he responded, “We will begin implementing testing as fast as possible.”
Later, he tweeted, “The challenge for us as a league and a sport is to ensure that we have a clean game, but a fair system.”
The latest collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players includes a provision to begin testing players for HGH — contingent on the union agreeing to the testing methods. The NFLPA has asked for more scientific data to prove the most popular test is reliable.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who attended the meeting, said the union has a responsibility to players to make sure the test is accurate, so “we can look them in the eye and say this is a safe and fair process.”
If the issue isn’t resolved shortly, both sides can expect a quick return visit to Capitol Hill. Issa said he wants another meeting in 30 days to review progress, but if testing doesn’t start soon, he’ll ask for a quicker follow-up, perhaps in two weeks.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saw things the way the lawmakers did, saying that Issa was clear he wanted testing to begin within the next two weeks.
Did the players agree to that?
“Everyone around the table agreed to that,” the commissioner said. He added that the league could have testing in place within seven to 10 days.