The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to conduct a hearing next month on the case of two NFL players whose suspensions were blocked by a federal appeals court.
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is concerned that the legal issues raised in the case "could result in weaker performance-enhancing drugs policies for professional sports," the committee said in a statement issued to The Associated Press on Thursday.
The committee provided the statement after the AP reported the hearing, citing two people with knowledge of the committee plans. The two spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hearing hadn't yet been announced.
The NFL had attempted to give Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams four-game suspensions for violating the league's anti-doping policy. But the players sued, arguing that the NFL's testing violated state workplace laws. A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the order, which was upheld last month by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision troubled the NFL and professional sports leagues, which expressed concern about players being subjected to different standards depending on their state. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said after the ruling that the league was considering its next step, which could include an appeal, a trial in state court or taking the issue to Congress. Subsequently, the NFL was granted more time to file documents asking the court to reconsider the suspensions.
"Like all sports organizations, we believe that rules on performance-enhancing drugs should apply equally to all players on all teams," the league said in a statement released Thursday. "That has been the basis of our program for more than two decades and of anti-doping programs in other sports leagues and the Olympics, which have all supported us in court on this matter. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss it further with the committee."
George Atallah, a players union official, said, "We look forward to cooperating fully with the committee."
The league wants to suspend the Williamses, who aren't related, for testing positive for a banned substance during training camp in 2008. They acknowledge taking the over-the-counter weight loss supplement StarCaps, which didn't state on the label that it contained the diuretic bumetanide. The diuretic is banned by the NFL because it can mask the presence of steroids; the players aren't accused of taking steroids.
The league argued that it should be allowed to enforce its drug policy because it was a product of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the players' union. The agreement is governed by federal labor law, which they argued pre-empted state law.
The Minnesota law mandates that an employer give an employee who tests positive for drug use the right to explain the result.
Waxman long has held an interest in performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports. As ranking Democrat and then chairman of the Government Reform Committee, he was involved in hearings on steroid use in Major League Baseball.
In the Senate, Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter, who held a hearing last week on steroids in dietary supplements, recently told the AP that he was looking into possible legislation so federal law would govern in cases like what the NFL faces.
"The NFL has a rule, and professional football teams play in many, many states," he said. "I don't think there ought to be a deviation as to how you treat players depending on whether they're in Minnesota or Pennsylvania."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.