WASHINGTON — The NFL is looking to add a little political muscle to its efforts to get human growth hormone testing started this season.
The league is recruiting Republican House members who are physicians to sign a letter pressuring the players union, which has resisted implementing a provision in the latest collective bargaining agreement to begin HGH testing.
In an email obtained Friday by The Associated Press, an NFL lobbyist asks congressional staffers to urge their bosses to sign a letter by two House Republicans urging the NFL and NFL Players Association to begin testing this season.
Brian Gaston of the Glover Park Group tells the staffers he’d like many of the 21 members of the “GOP Doc Caucus” to sign.
The letter was authored by Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, co-chairman of the doctors’ caucus, and Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, caucus vice chair.
“Given our unique perspective as doctors-turned-lawmakers, we believe that preventing HGH’s illegal possession and use — particularly among young people — is an important public health policy goal,” reads the letter, which has not yet been released publicly.
“Those who take HGH without a prescription are breaking the law and risking numerous negative side-effects, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, harm to reproductive health, thyroid problems and abnormal growth of bone and connective tissue,” the congressmen add.
The latest collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and union includes a provision to begin testing players for HGH — contingent on the union agreeing to the testing methods. The NFL Players Association has asked for more scientific data to prove the most popular test is reliable.
“The union has raised concerns about the validity of the tests — though scientists uniformly agree that HGH testing is credible, forensically defensible, safe and accurate,” Gaston wrote in the email soliciting congressional signatures for the letter.
At least one member of the doctors’ caucus, presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, didn’t agree with the letter.
“Congressman Paul did not sign on to this letter because the NFL is a private organization and should set their own standards without interference from the U.S. Congress,” said his congressional spokeswoman, Rachel Mills. “Congress has many other pressing issues to deal with.”
Roe’s spokeswoman, Amanda Little, defended the lawmakers’ focus on HGH.
“It’s regarding a health care issue, and that’s always very important,” she said. Little said that the lawmakers plan to send the letter next week, and that so far, besides Gingrey and Roe, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., has also signed on.
Gingrey’s spokeswoman, Jen Talaber, said that while the congressman agrees there are pressing issues facing the country, “the caucus can walk and chew gum at the same time.” She added that sending a letter urging a resolution is not congressional interference.
“We are merely calling attention to a matter of public health, not seeking involvement in brokering an agreement between the two sides,” she said.
In a statement to the AP, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that members of Congress have praised the league’s program on performance-enhancing drugs, including the HGH provision.
“We have been asked by members of Congress why that testing has not started this season, as the CBA stated it would,” Aiello said, referring to the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL players union did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The letter will be the latest salvo from Congress on the issue. In October, the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee brought in the NFL and NFLPA for a meeting to try to speed up HGH testing. Two weeks later, the lawmakers sent a pointed letter to both sides suggesting the union might be engaging in “stall tactics” to avoid complying with the HGH agreement.
In addition, senior Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged that panel’s chairman to hold hearings on the HGH impasse.
The attempt by the league to use congressional pressure in a dispute with the players union represents an interesting reversal. During the months leading up this year’s lockout, it was the union that sought Congress’ help in preventing the work stoppage. The union drafted letters for lawmakers to send to the league and held a briefing for members of Congress and their aides on the economic impact of a labor dispute.
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