Category archive: Insider NFL
Congressional hearings. Grand juries. Teary-eyed confessions. Funny how the steroids era seems so 2005. The leagues that went through the worst pain emerged with the smartest testing policies. But check the fine print -- those cat-and-mouse games are still at play.
NFL's Lockout Loophole
Roughly 30 percent of NFL tests take place in the off-season, trailing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's 66 percent out-of-comp rate for its athletes -- including Olympians -- but far surpassing MLB's 4 percent record. But the NFL's labor strife may become a boon for dopers. Sure, the league has talked with the World Anti-Doping Agency about future policy, including an HGH blood test. But with no testing during the lockout, there's no deterrent to PEDs. Also, says Howard Jacobs, an attorney who has repped dozens of athletes in PED cases, if a player proves he doped only during the lockout, "the league will have a hard time retroactively applying its new drug policy."
Drug Tests for most recently completed season
Eligible athletes/In-season tests/Out-of-season tests
NHL: 690/1,500/no off-season program
NBA: Does not disclose
NASCAR: Does not disclose
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDavid Stern's NBA barely penalizes drug-test offenders.
When it comes to doping policies, NBA commish David Stern has mastered the no-look. "There's a little too much holier-than-thou stuff going on," he said recently. "We are not on some kind of a witch hunt." Or any hunt, really. The NBA doesn't test year-round and sets a max of four tests per year unless there is suspicion. Its penalties are the lightest in major pro sports: First offenders (like O.J. Mayo) draw a 10-game ban; a second time gets 25. By contrast, first-time MLB dopers miss 50 games, NFL players lose four and NHLers sit 20. U.S. Olympians follow the strictest rules: First offense draws a two-to-four-year ban and a second could end a career. They also forfeit results and earnings from when they were doping.
MLB's Attention Deficit
MLB has come further than any sport because, well, it had the furthest to go. Now its drug-testing policy is jacked like a desperate DH. It includes a three-strike rule that culminates in a lifetime ban, an internal investigations team to track down drug cheats and a ban on 58 separate uppers. Where it whiffs is in off-season testing and in allowing 105 players to have "therapeutic use exemptions" for ADHD medications, which WADA bans because they are stimulants. That means 9 percent of MLB players take drugs that only about 5 percent of U.S. children need.
Mixed Signals in Minnesota
Forget the Barry Bonds trial. The biggest PED case in the country was just decided in Minnesota. In 2008, Vikings tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams flunked drug tests after taking a supplement called StarCaps. In court to get their suspensions lifted, the pair proved that the NFL withheld information that the product contained a banned diuretic. The judge accused the NFL of placing "the health, safety and welfare of its players in jeopardy so that [it] could play a game of gotcha." The suspensions stuck, but the players won two key battles: The case was heard in state court, showing that players have the right to sue in those jurisdictions; and the NFL was found to have broken a state law requiring employers to give drug test results within three days. Athletes in all sports now know that states' rights trump their own leagues' rules.
A few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a friend got me into one of those tres chic boutiques overrun with movie stars. I knew before I even looked at a price tag that the stuff on its shelves was too much for me. Only when I eyed a small bracelet that I thought would make a cool present for my wife, however, did I notice something strange. There weren't any cash registers. Not one in the whole place.
That's when I was introduced to the concept of gifting. Yes, folks. If you're a celeb, "gift" can be a verb. Eager designers throw their stuff at high-profile stars, hoping their fashions will get caught by the cameras during a red carpet event or featured on TV.
But you have to hand it to Chad Ochocinco. The wily wideout is taking gifting to a whole new level.
According to the owners of a Cincinnati store called Exclusive Wear, every time Ochocinco stopped by in 2008 and 2009, he acted like it was one of those places without a cash register. He just filled his arms with anything that caught his eye and walked out.
Except Ochocinco isn't an A-list movie star. (He's not even an A-list receiver anymore.) By the time he ran up a bill for $11,717, the owners finally had enough. They hounded him for their money, and when he ignored them they sued. On Tuesday, when Ochocinco failed to show up for a hearing, an Ohio judge entered a default order against him.
So what did the Bengal allegedly grab on his binges? Below is a guide to gifting, Ochocinco style. With the lockout coming, and his bill finally coming due, it's no wonder he's trying out for MLS.
Muhammad Ali: Every so often, you're reminded what being heavyweight champion of the world used to mean, and what a great champ can still do. In February, Muhammad Ali sent a letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking for the release of two American hikers who have been held on spy charges. This copy of the letter, provided to the File on Wednesday by the Muhammad Ali Center, shows why Ali is often called the world's most influential Muslim. "Please show the world the compassion I know you have in your heart," he writes. "Allah is most merciful. I remain your brother in Islam, always."
Barry Bonds: Want to play the home game version of the Barry Bonds trial? You can start by filling out your very own jury questionnaire, or at least the one that prosecutors propose using. This version, submitted to the federal court judge presiding over the case for approval, spans 22 pages. Our favorite question comes on page 12. We thank the U.S. Attorney's Office for noticing our steroids coverage.
On Dec. 6, 1963, a Congressional Medal of Honor holder named Joe Foss lent his signature to a letter to NFL Commissioner Peter Rozelle. An innovation known as instant replay was about to make its TV debut during the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia the next day, but Foss was proposing an even bigger breakthrough for TV sports. As the head of the upstart American Football League, Foss wanted to challenge the NFL to a title game.
"Much talking has been done of late by the public and press as to when the American and National Football leagues will meet in a championship game," Foss' Dear Pete letter began. "I feel strongly that the time has arrived for the inauguration of such an annual game."
Foss had the kind of gravitas that usually made people listen to him. Besides being a war hero whose fighter squadron shot down 135 Japanese planes during four months in World War II, the 48-year-old was the former two-term governor of South Dakota and had recently run for Congress.
Rozelle, then 37, couldn't have been more different. He was a slick former PR man who had so little support among the NFL's owners when he was first named to replace Bert Bell in 1959 that it reportedly took him 23 ballots to get the job. Yet Foss was out on a limb writing to Rozelle, and he knew it.
For one thing, the NFL had 14 teams, the AFL just eight. The AFL also was coming off a defeat in a highly publicized anti-trust suit against the NFL. Even though the AFL was about to sign an eye-popping $36 million deal with NBC, the NFL's owners had no intention of legitimizing it.
In that respect, Foss was trying to beat Rozelle at his own game by writing the letter. It wasn't supposed to be a confidential communication between two rivals. "Joe's intent was to get publicity and be cocky," says Joe Horrigan of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. "He was saying, 'We'll meet you anytime, anywhere.'"
Foss might not have conceived the idea. The AFL's brash oil-rich president, Lamar Hunt -- fresh off moving his Texas team to Kansas City and eager to one-up the NFL -- was a genius at promotion and publicity stunts. "It has all the hallmarks of a Lamar Hunt effort," Horrigan says. But the letter reflected Foss' statesmanlike tone.
"Any argument as to which team would win the initial AFL-NFL game is of secondary importance," Foss wrote. "The overriding fact is the establishment of a World Series of professional football is necessary to the continued progress of our game if we're to be true sportsmen and not merely businessmen in sports."
The letter ended with a call to arms. "I think now is the time for action rather than talk, Pete, and if you concur I'll be available to commence arrangements for the game at your earliest convenience."
Reporters were delighted when they got ahold of the missive, eagerly calling Rozelle to read it to him over the phone. Within hours, the commissioner had this statement for them:
"I understand that you intend to write me for the purpose of suggesting a championship playoff between the National Football League and the American Football League in 1964. As I have said on a number of occasions recently when queried by the news media concerning similar public requests made by you, we have no plans for such a game."
That didn't end the drumbeat for an end-of-the-season finale. Five months later, NBC offered to donate $500,000 to the Kennedy Memorial Library if Rozelle agreed to a championship game. (The move was a not-so-subtle reminder that the NFL played games in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination while the AFL did not. Rozelle often said that the move was his greatest mistake.)
The NFL still didn't bite, and it took three more years for the leagues to schedule a faceoff in January. The first world championship game was held on Jan. 15, 1967, at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, with tickets selling for $12, $10 and $6. Two years later, the AFL and NFL finally merged.
All we can do today is wonder what the league might have looked like if Rozelle had warmed to Foss' proposal in 1963. For one thing, Cleveland or Buffalo could lay claim to a Super Bowl trophy today, because those are the teams that would have met in January 1964. And there was considerable irony in having them in their positions. Cleveland, after all, belonged to the rival All-America Football Conference until 1949 and was still considered by some a carpetbagger. Hardly a team to carry the NFL banner. Buffalo, meanwhile, was built like an NFL team with a dominant defense and ball-control offense (anchored by Cookie Gilchrist) -- hardly representative of the pass-happy AFL.
Horrigan, for one, thinks that it's probably a good thing the matchup never happened, "If Cleveland won that game, I don't think there would have been SB II," he says. "The NFL could have said, 'See, we told you so' and, like a heavyweight champ, avoided a rematch."
And if the Bills had triumphed? The winning coach on Sunday might have been hoisting the Lou Saban Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Dan Snyder: The thin-skinned owner of the Washington Redskins might want to pick up a copy of Mark Twain's autobiography. Last week Snyder threatened litigation against the capital's City Paper for a story on him that he claims is anti-Semitic and filled with "untruths." It's not the first time he's complained. On Nov. 24, the Redskins' chief operating officer, David Donovan, sent the newspaper this three-page letter in which he said they were "evaluating all of our options, including litigation." Twain, no stranger to being written about, wrote this when he found himself in similar straits: "It is my settled policy to allow newspapers to make as many misstatements about me and my affairs as they like; therefore I [have] no mind to contradict [them] or explain my side of the coin in any way." Hey, it saves on legal bills.
Titans v. Trojans, Part I: Finding a judge to hear the Tennessee Titans' coach-poaching case against Lane Kiffin and USC is getting harder than finding a job for Jeff Fisher. First, U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell recused himself because his daughter is applying to USC. Then his replacement, Aleta Trauger, had to step aside because, as it turns out, her husband spearheaded negotiations to bring the Titans to Nashville from Houston in 1997. Now, the case is in the hands of Judge John Nixon. No word on whether he has any Titans or Trojans gear in his house. The trial is due to start on Aug. 2.
Titans v. Trojans, Part II: Seriously, what's up between these two? On Jan. 24, Titans RB Stafon Johnson filed this personal injury lawsuit against USC and its former assistant strength coach, blaming both for a freak weight-room accident in which a bar holding 275 pounds fell on his neck. After several surgeries, Johnson signed with Tennessee, only to lose last season to an ankle injury.
NFL drug policy: The NFL is cracking down on the practice of issuing medical waivers to take banned drugs. Presently, players can apply to take banned drugs after their prescriptions are filled. Beginning next season, they'll have to fill out this form in advance. According to the league, 69 players applied for therapeutic use exemptions for attention deficit disorder in 2009, up about 20 percent over 2008, and 10 applied for a waiver to take diuretics to treat hypertension, about the same in the respective periods.