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Dear Rep. Cummings: Stop hearing show unless you've got the juice

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Congress apparently doesn't have more pressing problems Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Congress apparently doesn't have more pressing problems Wednesday. (Getty Images)

An Open Letter To Congressman Elijah Cummings, of Maryland's 7th District:

Dear Congressman:

Thanks for all of the work you do. As a lifelong resident of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, I know firsthand how much the region of the country has to offer, and the extent of what problems we still have to overcome. I reside in Congressional District 2 (we're neighbors!), and have spent significant time in all areas of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. I know all too well of our fearsome heroin rates, childhood pregnancy, illiteracy, a school system in dire need of reform, an alarming amount of gun crimes. So consider me a cynic and skeptic when I peruse the minutes of Wednesday's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings on HGH testing in football.

With all due respect, sir, you aren't going to fix this problem, you have far more pressing issues to tend to both locally and nationally (fiscal cliff, anyone?) and these proceedings seem farcical to me, a waste of time intended to give off the hint of progress, a bit of a scare tactic, but lacking real bite. This issue of testing eventually will be solved by the army of lawyers for the NFL and the NFLPA, through trade-offs and bargaining, not in a Congressional room. The very composition of these hearings struck me as odd.

The gist of the hearings today was that the NFLPA is the boogeyman, they're to blame in all of this, they're keeping HGH testing from being implemented. Science has all the answers. Simple as that.

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Except, in a witness list that I'm still trying to comprehend, Dick Butkus (?) gets called in, but no one from the NFLPA side gets a chance to speak? And no direct participation by the league, either? It becomes clear as to why people are jumping to certain conclusions. The stated intent of the hearings is to determine if the science is there to compel both sides to solve this matter and agree to a testing protocol. Yet for months neither side has been able to find a doctor willing to oversee the process.

But Dick Butkus and Elijah Cummings are going to solve it? I asked a union official about possible participation and he said the NFLPA would have been happy to participate, had they been offered an opportunity. The NFL doesn't have anything to hide, either.

So, sir, you must understand that your witness list, when coupled with comments like the following that you raised in your opening statements, raise my concern: "They say they need more time ... before doing what they agreed to do. To me, it seems obvious the Players Association is simply running out the clock. Although they agreed to HGH testing, they are now trying to back out of the contract."

But let's take a look at how we really got here in the first place. Because there was no "contract." You see, the league and the union agreed in August 2011 to "develop and discuss" the means for HGH testing in the new CBA, but have been unable to agree on basic tenets of any program.

Here is what the CBA has to say in regards to HGH testing:

The parties confirm that the Program on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances will include both annual blood testing and random blood testing for human growth hormone, with discipline for positive tests at the same level as for steroids.

Over the next several weeks, the parties will discuss and develop the specific arrangements relating to the safe and secure collection of samples, transportation and testing of samples, the scope of review of the medical science, and the arbitrator review policy, with the goal of beginning testing by the first week of the 2011 regular season.

Dick Butkus, not the most logical choice, testifies on The Hill on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Dick Butkus, not the most logical choice, testifies on The Hill on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Pending agreement by both parties regarding the implementation of this program of blood testing, and such other policy amendments as the parties may agree upon, the Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse and the Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances, will remain in full force and effect as each existed during the 2010 season.

As per the CBA, according to sources, both sides then studied the World Anti Doping Agency's HGH test, the only one on the market. The NFLPA raised some issues with that testing and, according to union sources, WADA on several occasions refused to provide data the union requested, and negotiations between the sides continued.

Last September the sides agreed to conduct a population study to ascertain whether WADA's test properly applied to NFL players. In December of last year the league agreed to a union proposal for a population study, but the sides could not agree on who should oversee it. Then, in March and April of 2012, the league suggested Dr. Alvin Mastumoto oversee the study. The NFLPA eventually agreed, and then in May Mastumoto withdrew from the project.

Hmmm, seems like more than just NFLPA obstructionism to me, but what do I know? I just pay taxes here.

So later in the spring the NFLPA recommended Dr. Bruce Goldberger conduct the study, but, according to sources, the NFL rejected that proposal. So in August the sides went back to Mastumoto. And guess what, last month the NFL informed the NFLPA that he again said, no thanks. Oh, and there still hasn't been agreement on who would be the arbitrator on HGH appeals, etc.

Seems like a lot of work to be done by both sides. But, sure, by all means, let's put on a show on Capitol Hill and get heavy on the rhetoric, like this:

"Despite their commitment, lawyers for the Players Association now say they do not trust the HGH test," Cummings said. "Although it has been used for years on Olympic athletes, Major League Baseball players, and a host of other athletes, they argue that NFL players are somehow different. They claim their bodies are not the same as wrestlers, runners, weightlifters, and thousands of other athletes who are tested regularly. They say they need much more time to study this issue before doing what they agreed to do."

Except they never agreed to that test in the first place.

The NFLPA has concerns that since HGH is produced naturally in one's system. Therefore a positive test is not showing the appearance of something that isn't normally in one's blood system, rather at what level an individual has HGH. Under the NFL's proposal, sources said, once a player's test is over the decision limit (amount of HGH found to be normal), they test "positive" and the player could not challenge the scientific reliability of the test.

Furthermore, sources said, neither the NFL or the NFLPA know the exact "decision limit" figure in the WADA test because it has not been provided. The NFLPA feels unsure about how the population samples used to determine WADA's limit might compare to the population of NFL players, who might naturally produce more HGH in their system. Also, WADA has not been willing to share the rate of false negatives or false positives, sources said.

So given all of that, if you were the NFLPA, would you be willing to just go along? Just hope that the population study used by WADA to set the limits on its test would naturally mesh with the norm for an NFL player? Would you blame the NFLPA for wanting to conduct its own population study of its constituents based on blood samples from NFL players?

Doesn't seem crazy to me.

We all want HGH testing. And I have every reason to suspect there is a considerable number of NFL players who are boosting their HGH levels. But let's not pretend America's drug culture is endemic to our sporting culture. I seem to recall it was the government that bowed to powerful lobbying forces and allowed our airwaves to be barraged with constant advertisements for this drug or that elixir or that supplement, all with a quick fix to make everything right (and, of course, trigger a list of possible side effect that seem much more potent than the original ailment itself).

Why don't we start with an Oversight committee on that?

Personally, I am a lot more worried about what impact our drug corners are having on our youth than whatever influence a linebacker possibly on HGH might have, but that's just me. If you really want to help the NFL get HGH testing in place, if that is your calling, then try actually inviting the NFL and NFLPA to your party, get them behind closed doors, with officials from WADA. Then have WADA turn over all details, get the league and the union to agree upon a doctor to oversee the population study.

Now that would be progress.

In the meantime, with unemployment at nearly 10 percent in some areas of your district, I tend to think we have far greater societal ills to fix. No one loves Baltimore more than I do, or believes more deeply in our city, but we have so much to fix. I haven't seen any kids selling HGH on Fayette Street, or shooting up human growth hormone before a pick-up game in Patterson Park, or dying from an HGH overdose at Lexington Market. But maybe I'm not looking hard enough.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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