NFL players ratified a new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on Thursday, and two people familiar with the negotiations said the contract allows the NFL to become the first major US sports league to use blood testing for human growth hormone (HGH) in its anti-doping program.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made about the details of the CBA.
Players eventually would be subject to random testing for HGH, in addition to annual checks — as is the case for all banned substances in the league’s drug-testing program — only after the union is confident in the way the testing and appeals process will work.
The aim is to have everything worked out in time to start HGH testing in the first week of the regular season, but that is not guaranteed.
“We have to see if we agree with the test,” Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “If we agree with the test, then it’s legit. If not, they have to come up with another one.”
Most of the deal to end the NFL’s four-and-a-half-month lockout was agreed to last month, but certain elements still needed to be ironed out after the NFL Players Association (NFPLA) re-established itself as a union.
The union — which dissolved itself in March, when the old CBA expired, allowing players to sue the league in US federal court — was again formed by last weekend. Final CBA language was in place on Thursday afternoon in talks between the sides’ lawyers in Washington.
Before 5pm, players voted to approve the final agreement. That allowed players who signed contracts on July 26 or after — and had been forced to sit out practices by NFL rules — to finally join teammates in drills on Thursday, as the new “league year” officially began.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith were to sign the CBA at the front steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, yesterday morning. That is where the only game canceled by the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 was supposed to be played tomorrow between the Bears and Rams.
Among the CBA elements that were settled this week were parameters for penalties associated with on-field discipline and new disability program guidelines. Under a new neuro-cognitive disability benefit, for example, players do not have to prove that their mental disability was related to playing football.
For on-field offenses — which grabbed headlines last season when the league made a point of enforcing existing rules about illegal hits more strictly — the NFLPA must be consulted before a player is suspended or fined more than US$50,000. And players now will be able to argue on appeal that a fine is excessive if it exceeds 25 percent of one week’s pay for a first offense or 50 percent of a week’s pay for a second offense.
The off-field conduct policy remains largely unchanged and in Goodell’s hands.
The most significant new item in Thursday’s agreement, though, is the HGH testing, which was the last topic holding things up.
Goodell has been keen to have players tested for HGH, saying in an interview in August last year: “It’s about the integrity of the game.”
“We think it’s important to have HGH testing, to make sure we ensure that we can take performance-enhancing substances out of the game,” Goodell said.