NFL drug testing could see big change

BY Alex Marvez • May 24, 2011

Barring an agreement to extend the way NFL drug testing is currently conducted, the league’s anti-doping program could be undergoing significant changes.

NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch confirmed Tuesday the league is considering an outside company to conduct testing. As first reported by The New York Times, one of those potential firms is the World Anti-Doping Agency that handles drug testing for the Olympic games.

The NFL had run its own testing program through a deal with the NFL Players Association in the previous collective bargaining agreement. But the relationship between the two sides in this area had become strained long before the CBA expired in mid-March and a work stoppage began.

Player lawsuits were filed in recent years that challenged testing accuracy and the punishment for a positive test. One of those cases involved positive tests for three defensive linemen (Minnesota’s Kevin and Pat Williams and New Orleans’ Will Smith) from the banned use of the supplement Starcaps.

The lawsuit bounced around the legal system for years until finally being settled this spring. All three players now face four-game suspensions to open the 2011 campaign.

As first reported by FOXSports.com, the NFL also is insistent that human growth hormone testing become part of a new CBA. NFLPA officials haven’t taken a definitive stand on the matter, but late executive director Gene Upshaw vehemently opposed testing because it required the drawing of blood.

“One thing we’ve said is that our system we thought was a good system,” said Birch, who oversees the NFL’s drug-testing program. “Up until recently, we had full support, participation and input on the part of the players. In the absence of that, we have to look for ways to administer our policy in a way that keeps it as effective as we think it has been to date. I think from a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those (outside) options.

“(WADA) would be one option. We’re going to see what it means for us to advance the idea that the NFL still and remains the leader in this area.”

Players are not being drug tested during the lockout, but Birch said that would resume immediately after the work stoppage ends. The NFL conducts about 26,000 random drug tests a year (14,000 for performance-enhancing drugs; 12,000 for recreational drugs). Roughly 6,000 are usually administered during the offseason.

The NFL still wants to conduct drug testing even if teams are forced to lift the lockout by court order and resume football operations without a CBA in place. That’s where the use of an outside testing agency may not only be necessary but a harbinger of things to come once a CBA is reached.

Birch admits there could be changes in the protocol involving player drug testing if an agency like WADA became involved.

“We want an effective program that deters those who wish to cheat and eliminate the threat of steroids from our game,” Birch said. “Under any (outside) system we would consider, those would be the objectives.

“I doubt (WADA) would suggest we increase the number of tests. The number we do now I think is probably the most significant of any organization there is. But certainly WADA would have ideas about what they think is the way to operate. We would have to look at that and make determinations about the best way to go forward.”



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