Thursday, December 04, 2008

Steroid Policy is about Public Perception for NFL

Since becoming an NFL columnist, far too often I find myself writing about the litany of off the field problems plaguing the league. Believe me, it's mot my first option...I would much rather focus on what's going on between the lines.

Roger Goodell just won't let me.

Names like Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Chris Henry have been regulars on the police blotter over the years and have been recently joined by Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress, so I understand why everyone championed the tough-talking Goodell after he took over for the laid back Paul Tagliabue.

The new commish's sycophants felt that the NFL's version of a phony, moralistic preacher would clean up the league with his tough governing style.

Hasn't really worked has it?

And to be honest, it isn't really Goodell's fault. Grown men doing stupid things isn't the NFL's problem.

But, the league's policies? That's all Goodell and he's in a heap of trouble. The commish has now morphed into the character he created for television. He really has become the arrogant judge of values he portrays.

In Goodell's world, the end justifies the means, no matter the collateral damage. If Vince McMahon were here -- he would tell you Goodell is living his gimmick. He's now Ric Flair or "The Rock" and no longer Richard Fliehr or Dwayne Johnson.

The lawsuit filed against the NFL by Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams includes some explosive allegations.

It claims the league suspended the "Williams Wall" not because they felt they were masking the use of steroids by taking a tainted supplement, but to placate public officials (congress), who may think the NFL isn't doing it's part to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing substances.

As rumored, Peter Ginsberg, the Williams’ New York-based lawyer, is also alleging that the NFL chose not to disclose that StarCaps secretly included Bumetanide so that the league would be able to catch "violators" of the steroids policy, and thus convince Arlen Specter that the league has a meaningful steroids program in place even though Human Growth Hormone abuse is running rampant.

It's a powerful argument since the stated intent of the NFL's steroid policy is to "protect the health and well being of the NFL players."

"The NFL wants to take away (Pat and Kevin Williams') reputations and a significant portion of their careers and I cannot tell you why," Ginsburg said in Hennpin County, Minn. court Wednesday. "There is no decent excuse for what the NFL has done to these players."

The complaint further alleges fraud, misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty by Roger Goodell's NFL.

But perhaps, the smoking gun is this little nugget...According to Pro Football Talk, one of the facts that came out in the appeal hearings for the various players who tested positive is that the NFL learned of the possible link between StarCaps and Bumetanide when a player tested positive for the banned diuretic in 2006 after he had taken the supposedly "all-natural" supplement.

That player was never suspended, a key point since the suit does not allege that the NFL violated the terms of its collectively-bargained steroids policy with the NFLPA.

So instead of answering any of the explosive charges -- the NFL and its lawyers are playing defense, claiming none of the league's misdeeds matter because the players agreed to the appeal process.

It's akin to the bully on the block taking the little kid's basketball because the little kid, hoping to save his teeth, agreed to give it to him.

"The NFL policy on steroids and related substances is a collectively bargained program between the league and the NFL Players Association," the NFL said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. "The program and the collective bargaining agreement expressly bar precisely this kind of lawsuit.

"All of the steroid program's rules and procedures are established in agreement with the players' union. In other words, the players have agreed to the rules and the procedures that they are now challenging. There is no merit to this lawsuit, and we will promptly seek to have the order reversed."

In essence the league is ignoring what is right and claiming zero tolerance. A specious and arrogant argument since it already let one player off the hook for the same thing.

"It doesn't matter whether you took them to mask a steroid or whether you took them to lose weight," NFL lawyer Dan Nash said in court.

Ginsberg calmly countered that the NFL drug program is permeated by "fraud" and is "arbitrary and capricious" process. He won a temporary restraining order.

Embittered, the NFL's true colors came out.

"You'd have ESPN all over the place. This is going to be a sideshow," Nash told judge Gary Larson.

Perhaps it's time to look in the mirror and understand who created the sideshow.

But, public perception trumps common sense in Roger Goodell's NFL.

No comments: