Barack Obama’s pick for the top cop in the United States has an interesting past, having been enlisted by the NFL to combat the onslaught of congressional hearings and other forms of bad publicity last year.
The attorney-general-to-be and deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton was a partner in Covington & Burling, a D.C. law firm that has long extended services to the NFL. Since 2001, Holder has been involved in the investigation of the dog-fighting charges against Michael Vick, the implementation of the rule requiring team owners to interview minority candidates for coaching vacancies, and the league’s personal-conduct crackdown, some elements of which have reached silly proportions.
Holder and his supporting cast did not get what they hoped for last year, and law-enforcement officials have called his efforts a mere attempt to keep the league from suffering further black eyes rather than an earnest attempt to curb a performance-enhancing drug problem:
[E]fforts at cooperation ended badly when, led by Holder, the leagues and the unions refused to consider serious reforms in the way in which users of steroids were investigated and prosecuted and insisted on maintaining their own drug enforcement procedures under their respective collective bargaining agreements. The collaboration between law enforcement and sports organizations quietly fell apart.
“There was no substance to it,” said one law enforcement official who participated in the meetings. “It was all for show.”
The optimistic atmosphere of the sessions apparently deteriorated quickly. According to two participants in the meetings, Holder’s group of league officials and union leaders was focused on eliminating public controversy and media scrutiny and wanted to conduct their own drug testing quietly and confidentially.
At next month’s confirmation hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee might have questions about Holder’s work for the NFL.
“Holder and the professional leagues wanted us to share information with them,” a top official of a law enforcement agency who participated in Holder’s meetings told ESPN.com. “They wanted to know what players were involved. They wanted an end to leaks from our investigations. But when we asked for their information about players who used or where players bought their drugs, they didn’t want to give us anything.”
As with most professional sports leagues, at least in the U.S., the NFL is more interested in image than reform. Protecting player privacy with regard to certain matters is one thing, but trying to squelch evidence of cheating is another. Not surprisingly, this is one area in which the players’ union and the owners actually agree.
Holder is going to face some tough questions during his confirmation hearings, given that he will suddenly find himself on the opposite side of a battle that will bring him $2.5 million in deferred compensation in 2009 from his efforts on behalf on the NFL even as he prepares to play prosecuting roles in high-profile perjury cases against, among others, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.