NEW YORK - The NFL is going deeper into the wallets of players who get caught using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
After four months of sometimes intense negotiations, the league and union announced Wednesday more extensive testing for performance-enhancing drugs and the addition of the blood-boosting substance EPO to its list of banned substances.
The union also agreed that players suspended after testing positive will, for the first time, forfeit a portion of their signing bonuses in addition to the salary they will lose during their time away. That is significant because the signing bonuses often are the only
guaranteed portion of a player's salary and can be larger than salaries, which sometimes are kept artificially low to keep the team under the salary cap.
"It is important that the NFL and its players continue to be leaders on the issue of illegal and dangerous performance-enhancing drugs in sports," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "These latest improvements will help ensure that we continue to have a strong and effective program. As we have done in the past, we will review and modify the policy on an ongoing basis."
In addition to the new test for EPO, the agreement includes an increase from seven to 10 of the number of players on each team randomly tested each week during the season for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. That means there will be 12,000 tests each season, up from the current 10,000.
The new policy will make the NFL the only North American sports league to regularly test for EPO. Urine will be tested, not blood, for EPO. Baseball did a round of urine testing for EPO in 2005. Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations, said Wednesday there were no positives among the 500 samples tested.
The NFL policy mandates a four-game suspension for a first steroids offense and a year for a second. Unlike its policy for street drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, for which there is no suspension until a second violation, a player who tests positive for steroids or a supplement is suspended for the first positive test.
One provision of the new agreement increases the unpredictability of random testing during the season and offseason, making it harder for players using performance-enhancing substances to regulate their usage because they won't know when they might be tested.
EPO, which provides users more stamina by increasing their number of red blood cells, is used primarily by long-distance runners and cyclists. That testing will begin this summer when teams go to training camp.
The program also includes additional use of carbon isotope ratio testing on a random basis to detect for doses of testosterone. All players now will be subject to those tests, previously used only to confirm positive tests.
One of the league's congressional watchdogs, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., praised the new policy on Wednesday.
"These changes show what sports leagues and their players' associations can accomplish when they set their minds to eradicating steroids from their sports," said Davis, who, as chairman of the Government Reform Committee in the last Congress led three hearings on steroid use among pro athletes.
"I especially want to commend the NFL which, out of all the sports leagues, has been the most consistent in its approach to testing and taking other steps to end steroid use among its athletes."
DRUG TESTING IN OTHER PRO SPORTS
Major League Baseball: The league conducts urine tests of major and minor league players for performance-enhancing drugs and stimulants, with each player tested at least twice randomly per year. A player who tests positive for steroids is banned for 50 games for a first violation. A baseball player who tests positive for steroids is banned for 50 games for a first violation. A player who tests positive for stimulants is required to undergo counseling for a first violation and is subject to at least six additional tests over the next year.
NBA: Players are randomly tested four times a season. Players who test positive for steroids or performance-enhancing drugs get a 10-game suspension for a first offense, a 25-game ban for a second offense, a one-year suspension for a third offense and disqualification if they're caught a fourth time.
NHL: Every player is subject to up to two random tests a year. A first-time offender gets a 20-game suspension without pay and mandatory referral to the league's substance abuse program. A second positive test carries a 60-game suspension.