Is Eagles’ Hanson a victim of labor strife?

I'm not sure what to make of the four-game suspension of Eagles cornerback Joselio Hanson this week for violation of the NFL’s Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances. The suspension stems from a diuretic Hanson ingested prior to the NFC Championship game in January.

As we’ve noted several times, the policy appears to be in a state of confusion as a result of the Minnesota state court running interference on the suspension of Kevin and Pat Williams of the Vikings. Both players tested positive for a diuretic last season and were suspended for violation of the policy, which holds players strictly liable for what’s in their bodies (weight-loss pill, cold pill, etc.). With Minnesota state law requiring greater protections for employee drug-testing than the NFL-NFL Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the judicial system -- both state and federal -- sided with the Williamses and deferred the adjudication of these claims until after the season, allowing both players to play through the 2009 season.

With the interests of competitive balance outweighing the league's interests in suspending players for positive tests, Commissioner Roger Goodell refused to suspend two New Orleans Saints players -- Will Smith and Charles Grant -- even though the testing laws of Louisiana are not as employee-friendly as Minnesota.

All of this begs the question how and why Hanson was suspended when Williams, Williams, Smith and Grant were not. One possible reason is the diuretic in question is not the diuretic found in the samples from those players. That substance, Bumetanide, was part of a larger controversy involving the StarCaps brand that has come under fire.

Hanson's lawyer, David Cornwell, a go-to guy for players with substance issues, issued a statement that reads in part: “The urine specimen that Joselio provided after the game tested positive for a diuretic. Joselio did not use steroids or any other substance that would enhance his performance.”

The point, however, is not whether the substance enhanced Hanson's performance or even whether the diuretic is a steroid. The issue is whether the substance found in his body is banned. The performance enhancement issue with diuretics, of course, is not the weight-loss aspect of their use. It is the masking aspect of their use -- masking the presence of steroids in the system – that’s problematic.

The more ominous statement from Cornwell was this: “Joselio accepts his responsibilities as an NFL player. Nonetheless, we suspect that he is a casualty of the looming labor war in the NFL. Here's hoping that he is the last.” Perhaps, on Veterans Day, Cornwell's description of Hanson as a casualty of war was not the best choice of words.

As with all of the economic issues that are on the table -- the conduct and discipline issues, the bonus recovery issue discussed here Wednesday -- this is something that screams out for bargaining. Both Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have agreed that a uniform drug-testing policy is necessary and appropriate instead of being subject to the vagaries of state law. The question is how to structure a testing policy that addresses this diuretic issue in an even-handed yet deterrent manner.

We'll continue to search out the distinguishing factors about why Hanson was suspended 10 months after testing positive for a diuretic while the other players continue to play, two of them for competitive reasons in light of the Minnesota courts. As for Hanson's feelings, he texted Geoff Mosher of the following: “I’m just going to say that the NFL don’t treat players the same.” Hanson and Cornwell clearly think there is selective justice at work here.

My sense is that the facts of the Hanson case must be distinguishable from the StarCaps players. The bigger question is whether Hanson is part of a larger strategy to protect the sanctity of the policy while collective bargaining over the future of the policy proceeds.

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