Transparency Problems Plague NFL Drug Testing

By Colin Tansits, a sophomore at Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater.

Suspended Denver Broncos Ryan McBean (98) and D.J. Williams (55) are suing the NFL in response to their alleged illegal substance usage.

Whether it was Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the late 90s or Ryan Braun recently, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports has become an encompassing subject. But now players are seemingly taking a stand and winning, with Ryan Braun prevailing in his recent appeal against MLB and two Denver Broncos currently challenging the NFL’s testing procedures.

Earlier this month, two players from the Denver Broncos filed lawsuits against the NFL over their suspensions for their alleged use of illegal drugs. Linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive lineman Ryan McBean were suspended without pay for the first six games of the upcoming season. The players filed the lawsuit in District Court in Denver, contending that the NFL violated protocol in the collection of urine samples.

Behind all of this PED controversy comes the law – best explained by Paul J. Greene, an associate with Preti Flaherty’s Sports Law Group. In his sports law practice, he focuses in the areas of Olympic anti-doping and eligibility arbitrations, rights of publicity matters, and immigration issues specific to the sports world.

According to Greene, the NFL, like most other professional leagues, is very secretive in their drug testing procedures and very little information ever comes out.

That’s the problem with deciphering this case.

The players say the league’s collector violated protocol in collecting urine samples, and that the NFL then refused to clear the players even after the collector was fired for dereliction of duty.

The league’s hearing officer, Harold Henderson, who works in the commissioner’s office, ruled against the players. The suit filed claims that Henderson exceeded his powers and wasn’t an impartial arbitrator. The lawsuit also contends that errors were made in the chain-of-custody procedure, and that after the players’ appeals hearings, the NFL lawyer held ex parte communications with Henderson.

Sticking out the most is the errors made in the chain-of-custody procedure, which if broken, violates civil rights, said Greene.

This case brings forth more discussion by many around the NFL about a change in the league’s drug test policy. The current policy includes an all-internal arbitration panel, meaning all three arbitrators judging on the drug testing are closely connected with the league.

Players, on the other hand, want an independent tribunal, which is more along the lines of Olympic style testing. Greene said that this kind of arbitration panel brings out a highly impartial tribunal.

“Independent arbitrators are more along the lines of what’s in the Olympic world, with a three member arbitration panel consisting of people not involved with the sport, and know nothing about the athlete in the sport,” Greene said. “These arbitrators are totally unconnected to the player or the game, but currently in NFL, it is all internal.”

This case that is seemingly flying under the radar, maybe due to the fact that these players are relatively unknown, can change the game in more ways than one.

These players, if they can prove that the chain-of-custody procedure was broken and that the arbitrator was not being impartial, would not only win their case, but would also cause a massive stir in the NFL Players Association on the questionable testing procedures being conducted in the NFL.

With little information given out by the league, Greene said that it’s hard to predict what the verdict will be.

Regardless of the outcome, this case can have huge ramifications on the future of drug testing in the NFL.

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