Goodell to seek change in labor law
WASHINGTON -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell plans to ask Congress for legislation that would protect collective bargaining agreements from state law challenges, like the one that led to blocking the suspensions of two players who tested positive for banned substances.
"We believe that a specific and tailored amendment to the Labor Management Relations Act is appropriate and necessary to protect collectively bargained steroid policies from attack under state law," Goodell said in prepared testimony for a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Tuesday. He said that recent court decisions "call into question the continued viability of the steroid policies of the NFL and other national sports organizations."
A copy of Goodell's testimony was obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The NFL had attempted to suspend the Minnesota Vikings' Pat Williams and Kevin Williams for four games, but the players sued the league in state court, arguing the league's testing violated Minnesota workplace laws. The case was moved to federal court, and the NFL players union filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Williamses and New Orleans Saints players who were also suspended.
In May, a federal judge dismissed the union's lawsuit and several claims in the Williamses' case -- but sent two claims involving Minnesota workplace laws back to state court. A judge there issued an injunction prohibiting the NFL from suspending the players and has scheduled the trial for March 8. In September, a federal appeals court panel agreed with those decisions, essentially allowing the Williamses to continue playing while the case proceeds in state court.
The use of state law to block the suspensions, Goodell said, "illustrates with compelling force the need for legislation here." He complained that the Williamses, who are not related, are able to work under different conditions than players outside Minnesota.
"Professional athletes and their collective bargaining representatives should not be permitted to manipulate state statutes as a means to gain a competitive advantage," Goodell said.
He also criticized the NFL Players Association.
"With the help of the NFLPA, the Vikings players have been able to prolong their litigation for almost one year now," Goodell said.
The Vikings players tested positive in 2008 for the diuretic bumetanide, which is banned by the NFL because it can mask the presence of steroids. The players acknowledged taking the over-the-counter weight-loss supplement StarCaps, which did not state on the label that it contained bumetanide. Neither player is accused of taking steroids.
The court ruling led the NFL to allow New Orleans defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith, who had also been issued four-game suspensions, to continue playing. Both players tested positive after using StarCaps.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the players union, said that this case differs from others. He said that Dr. John Lombardo, who oversees the league's steroid policy, learned that StarCaps contained bumetanide but did not inform the players.
"Frankly, the fundamental failure of that doctor to ensure immediate disclosure of the fact that StarCaps included bumetanide violated his paramount duty as a doctor -- to protect patients, in this case, our players," Smith said in his prepared testimony, also obtained by the AP. Smith said the league should have instructed people answering its hotline about what was in StarCaps.
Smith called for changes to the steroid league-union policy that would mandate the NFL notify players when it learns that a product contains a banned substance. He also said that disputes should be handled by outside, impartial arbitration, rather than the commissioner or his designee.
"There must be measures put in place to assure that the dangers of a given product, once they become known, must be revealed to the players immediately," Smith said.
Michael Weiner, general counsel at the Major League Baseball Players Association, said that legislation is unnecessary. A bill to pre-empt state law, he argued, "would stand for the unusual proposition that parties to a collective bargaining agreement can contract for that which is illegal under state law."
Weiner, who is scheduled to replace Donald Fehr as union head during the offseason, said that a product like StarCaps should never have been allowed on the market in the first place and argued that the current regulation of supplements is not working.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press