Congress Shoots Down NFL's Request for Help on StarCaps Ruling
"Ask Rodney King for some advice," Rush said in his closing statement. "Can't we all get along?"
Wednesday in New York, the NFL and the NFLPA will hold another round of collective bargaining negotiations. But as they attempt to head off an uncapped 2010 season and the possibility of a 2011 lockout by settling their significant differences on economic issues, it's clear that the league and the union are in strong disagreement on the state of the NFL's drug policy. When the hearings concluded Tuesday, NFL PR representatives Greg Aiello and Brian McCarthy engaged in some back-and-forth arguments with union spokesman George Atallah on their respective Twitter pages. Aiello wrote that the "NFLPA is now aligned with MLB players union on steroids. Seems like big step backward for NFLPA." Atallah responded by writing, "Alternative fix to federal legislation: collective bargaining. Let's close the loopholes."
A quick rundown of the background: The Williamses and three other players were suspended last year for testing positive for a banned substance, but the players argued that the positive test resulted from their taking the weight loss drug StarCaps. The players and their union say the league knew that StarCaps contained the banned substance and either failed, neglected or decided not to inform the players of that fact when they asked if the drug was OK for them to take. The league is upset that the union hasn't joined it in fighting the Williams' challenge of their suspensions, but the union believes the league is responsible for this specific problem and the union wants to negotiate changes in the policy that would prevent its recurrence.
The case is currently awaiting hearing in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, where so far the players have successfully argued that Minnesota state law prohibits employers from disciplining employees for a first positive drug test.
Goodell on Tuesday said the NFL's drug policy could not survive if it turned out to be vulnerable to challenges in individual state courts, and he asked the House Subcommitte on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection to help, calling this a "rare case in which narrow and tailored federal legislative action is warranted to confirm the primacy of federal labor law and respect agreements on this important subject."
But Rush clearly disagreed. He asked Goodell if the league had approached the Minnesota state legislature and asked them to change the law to make it clear that it doesn't apply to the NFL. (Louisiana has a similar law on the books that has such an exception written into it.) Goodell's response was that the league could do that, sure, but that wouldn't prevent other states from acting in this same way in the future.
But Goodell's worries seem unfounded, and in asking for congressional help the league appears to be overreaching. Only two states besides Minnesota -- Maryland and North Carolina -- have laws that would conflict in such a way with the NFL's drug policy. And certainly, if threatened with the possibility that the league would no longer operate in their states, those legislatures would undoubtedly make the necessary changes to those laws.
So in the meantime, Congress' position seems to be that the league and its union find a way to close these loopholes in the policy on their own, which is what Smith, the union head, has said publicly that he wants to do.
Rush said that Goodell's request for the hearing in light of the StarCaps ruling was "the proper and responsible thing to do," and he didn't rule out the idea of Congress getting involved in the future. But he made it clear that such involvement would not be desirable.
"If legislation is necessary, we love to write laws, so we won't hesitate to write them," Rush said. "But I think we need to go slow on this, and I'm going to ask and simply request that the players' association and the NFL, you all get together and try to work this out if you possibly can. You don't want 435 members of Congress writing a law that would have in any way some immediate conduct or effect on your players, because you never can tell. We might come up with some kind of laws that put a ceiling on salaries. You don't want us to get involved in this, because you can never tell what members of Congress will ultimately do once you open up this Pandora's Box. So I just would ask that you all try to work this out."