Breakthrough HGH testing still in play with hurdles to clear

by | National Columnist

For several years now, across the NFL, some players looked around their locker rooms and saw rapidly transformed bodies and newfound speed. Suspicions grew. No one believed steroids were involved. They thought it was something else: human growth hormone.

If you want to understand why players agreed to HGH testing despite the obvious potential damage to them -- under the possible agreement with the owners, players would be subject to multiple random tests and a four-game suspension for a first offense -- look no farther than this quote from a longtime player. He and other players interviewed asked that their names not be used due to the sensitivity of the ongoing talks with the league.

DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell still must work out details to get new testing in place for this season. (AP)  
DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell still must work out details to get new testing in place for this season. (AP)  
"If 80 percent of the players are clean," the player said, "why do we want the other 20 percent to have an unfair advantage?"

In other words, players said, there was a need for the rank and file to police itself because HGH was becoming an increasing problem in the sport.

Players wanted to make it clear they didn't believe HGH was a significant problem now. But they believed it was a growing one and if there is no testing HGH could easily become rampant in the sport, players said. Several players estimated HGH use in the NFL at anywhere from 10-20 percent. They compared its use now in football to the early days of steroid use in baseball when the drug had not yet become rampant but its use clearly was increasing.

Players believe the proposed policy is a thorough one, and after reading through portions of it, that certainly seems to be the case. The crucial and most effective deterrent is the random aspect of the multiple testing throughout the year. Random tests make it far more difficult for players to cheat.

The prospective testing program would work this way. There would be one test annually for HGH, and during the season a player could be tested randomly any number of times and up to six times in the offseason.

The players and owners have until the first regular-season game this season or the drug policy reverts to the 2010 form which contains no HGH testing. If it does occur, the NFL would become the first pro sports league in the United States to test for the substance with union consent.

"The parties confirm that the Program on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances will include both annual blood testing and random blood testing for human growth hormone, with discipline for positive tests at the same level as for steroids," states the current collective bargaining agreement on HGH.

"Over the next several weeks, the parties will discuss and develop the specific arrangements relating to the safe and secure collection of samples, transportation and testing of samples, the scope of review of the medical science, and the arbitrator review policy, with the goal of beginning testing by the first week of the 2011 regular season. Pending agreement by both parties regarding the implementation of this program of blood testing, and such other policy amendments as the parties may agree upon, the Policy for Substances of Abuse and the Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances, will remain in full force and effect as each existed during the 2010 season."

Union leader DeMaurice Smith called the prospect of HGH testing "something to be strived for." Commissioner Roger Goodell added: "We're going to get it done but we want to get it done right."

But it's far from a foregone conclusion HGH testing will happen. There is still a great deal of distrust between the players and owners on the overall issue of testing.

Much of the suspicion stems from the strange case of Minnesota's Kevin and Pat Williams who tested positive in 2008 for a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent. The two players vehemently denied any intent to mask performance enhancing drug use and lawyers for the two men claimed league scientists and attorneys had information about the substance but withheld it from the players. The league has denied this.

The players are willing to trust the owners only so much on drug testing. That is why an agreement on HGH testing hasn't been struck and will continue to take intensive talks to complete a deal.

Some players put the odds of agreeing to an HGH policy at around 70 percent. I think it's more like 50. Players are trying to balance their sincere desire to police the cheats with their lack of trust in ownership.

There is one place where the sides agree. If the sport isn't careful, HGH could ruin it.


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