WOODLAWN, Md. – One of the hundreds of high school students attending an assembly Monday about the dangers of performance-enhancing substances wanted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to answer this question:
Why is there more drug use in baseball than football?
Goodell began his response this way: "I'm not sure that's true."
While making sure to emphasize that he believes the NFL's drug-testing program is a strong one, Goodell acknowledged that it can be improved, and said the league will insist that its next labor deal with players — whenever there is one — includes testing for human growth hormone.
"We'd be naive to think that people aren't trying to cheat the system. But we have to have the best testing program to be able to offset that," Goodell told reporters after joining Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, to speak to area students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County.
"I made it clear to the kids in the room today that the integrity of the NFL is critical, and we need to make sure we're doing everything possible to have the best drug program in sports," Goodell said. "Making changes to our program is critical and we have done that over the years. We need to do more, including the inclusion of HGH testing."
Preventing athletes from using HGH is a key target in the anti-doping movement. The substance is hard to detect, and athletes are believed to choose HGH for a variety of benefits, whether they be real or only perceived — including increasing speed and improving vision.
HGH use is prohibited by the NFL, but the league's old collective bargaining agreement did not have testing for it. Goodell thinks players "recognize the importance of" adding HGH tests.
The NFL Players Association has opposed blood tests in the past but did say last summer it would be open to hearing a proposal from the league during CBA talks. Goodell said Monday that HGH was "part of a broader proposal on where we go with our drug program."
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to comment Monday.
CBA negotiations broke off March 11, and the old deal expired. The NFLPA said it would no longer function as a union, and a group of players filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit in federal court in Minnesota. The owners then locked out the players. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on the players' request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout.
Some former NFL players also sued, and the cases were consolidated Monday.
The retirees said that loss of NFL revenue from an extended lockout would jeopardize their retirement plans and other benefits subsidized by the league. In court documents filed Monday in Minnesota, attorneys for the NFL argued the retirees don't have standing to ask that the lockout be blocked, because they aren't current employees and aren't being locked out.
Goodell wouldn't say whether he's optimistic about what will happen in court.
"We're going to present our case, and the judge will make their decision," he said.
Asked whether owners have decided under what rules the league would operate if the injunction is granted, Goodell said: "We're prepared for every outcome. I can promise you that. And we don't believe this is an issue that should be decided in court. This is an issue that should be decided at the bargaining table. We have to get back to that bargaining table, no matter what the outcome of litigation is."
Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he talked briefly to Goodell about the NFL lockout.
"The players and the owners have got to understand that this is bigger than them, and that we've got a lot of folks who are spending their hard-earned dollars to come and watch football games, and many of them struggle for those dollars, and there are a lot of people out work," Cummings said. "I would hope that Congress would not have to get involved in this. ... That is not something I would advocate for. We have enough problems we're dealing with, as it is."