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Wary NFL players balking at quick deal over HGH testing

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Just last week some players around the league were watching an interview Bob Costas was conducting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and upon seeing it they became almost as enraged as they did during the heated rhetoric of the lockout.

The interview was about HGH testing, and what Costas hinted at, as well as the players' reaction, symbolized what is now a highly divisive fight. It's a much quieter battle publicly than the recent labor war but almost as acidic, with no immediate settlement in sight.

After apparently achieving labor peace, Roger Goodell could be facing another wedge issue with the NFLPA. (Getty Images)  
After apparently achieving labor peace, Roger Goodell could be facing another wedge issue with the NFLPA. (Getty Images)  
Costas asked Goodell why no HGH agreement had been reached. Costas then hinted at a reason without saying it: Was the delay because the union was possibly stalling for players who have been using HGH and wanted to wait for it to leave their systems before testing resumed? Even Goodell looked stunned at the query for a brief second.

Some players say they believe Costas was asking the question at the league's prodding.

And so weeks after both the union and league hailed a potential HGH agreement that was supposed to begin the first week of the regular season, here we are, basically nowhere. The fight has been nasty and protracted, and there's no end on the immediate horizon.

All of this can change quickly, just as it did with the end of the lockout and a resulting new labor deal. But for now, it seems the distance between the players and league on HGH testing is immense, and for the first time, several union player reps and non-union players explained exactly why they won't sign an agreement as currently constructed by the league. The players asked for anonymity for fear of retribution from the NFL.

Players believe the league is trying to railroad them into a quick deal that isn't beneficial to the union. The league believes union politics are the reason for the delay. Players simply don't want to give in to the NFL too quickly on HGH and are stalling, the league believes. The result is a stalemate.

"We have the same information as the union, and there is no question among the experts and scientists about the validity of the test," league spokesman Greg Aiello said. "But if you're trying to avoid making a decision, one way is to keep asking for more information."

The World Anti-Doping Agency has been heavily involved in the negotiations. But it has become clear the players don't trust WADA. The players believe WADA has no double-blind tests, no oversight above the agency and the tests would be invasive.

Some players also believe that by using WADA, it would basically be akin to being treated as a violator in the NFL's drug testing program. The players say they'd have to keep WADA apprised as to their whereabouts under certain circumstances.

The league vehemently denies these claims. The NFL says specimen collection will be handled by the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the same group that currently collects the NFL's urine specimens and blood for minor league baseball. The testing lab would be certified by WADA but have no role in the collection or testing process except that it developed the guidelines for the labs on how to analyze the specimen, the NFL says.

The NFL also says WADA has ongoing and detailed proficiency testing to ensure the labs are properly analyzing the specimens, which includes periodically sending numerous blind samples (known positives and known negatives) to the labs for testing. WADA, the NFL maintains, is ultimately answerable to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for challenges to their lab protocols.

And the NFL continues to hammer this point regarding potential invasiveness: The test requires less than a tablespoon of blood and is far less invasive than a player standing naked and having someone observe him urinating into a cup.

The sides remain at a standstill. Worse than that. It's reached the point where HGH testing for this season remains unlikely and the future of HGH testing in general is in jeopardy.

One high ranking member of the union said this: He doesn't want HGH in the sport but testing must be "safe, fair and without burden." The players don't feel that exists. The league does. So, the fighting continues.

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