NFL postpones HGH testing for 2011
Testing for human growth hormone will not begin as planned at the start of the NFL season as the players union continues to question the validity of the internationally accepted test, according to memos obtained by FOXSports.com on Friday.
“Although the CBA reflects the commitment to implement such testing by the start of the 2011 regular season, it is apparent that we will be unable to do so because of the union’s continued refusal to accept the validity of the tests developed by the World Anti-Doping Agency that are used in Olympic sports and minor league baseball,” NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash wrote in a memo distributed to all 32 teams.
Messages left at the NFL Players Association were not immediately returned.
The NFL was set to become the first major pro league in North America to test for HGH, a synthetic version of a hormone thought to be used widely in elite athletics. The only accepted test for HGH — an injectable that can speed recovery and help build muscle mass — requires blood, a major hurdle for some pro sports unions concerned about the privacy and health of their members.
But apparently the the NFLPA was worried about false positives. Officials from the NFL and NFLPA met at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) headquarters last month to discuss the science behind the test.
“In the course of that meeting, the scientists reviewed the validation of the test, the setting of the thresholds and the absence of any false positives to date and the advances in the testing technology in recent years,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter sent to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith obtained by FOXSports.com. “My own view is that we received substantial and valuable information in that meeting, which has led me to have an even greater comfort with the science underlying the test. ... We owe it to our players, our fans and the public not to make the best the enemy of the good, but instead implement a robust testing program now."
While the NFLPA had agreed to the framework for HGH testing, it requested more information this week concerning the company that will carry out the collection process (the National Center for Drug Free Sport), a script of the video meant to educate players on the process and one of the kits used in collection.
The first athlete to test positive for HGH was British rugby player Terry Newton in November 2009. A half dozen other athletes have been caught since, most recently minor league first baseman Mike Jacobs last month.
The HGH test has evolved in recent years, but the underlying science has remained the same. HGH is extracted from a blood sample and examined using sensitive lab equipment to determine if the sample shows signs of synthetic HGH, which has different structure --- or isoform --- than the HGH naturally produced in the body. If a sample contains the synthetic isoform combined with a drop in the ratio of naturally occurring HGH, the result would be a positive test.
“This is a significant blow to the integrity of football and to clean players at every level," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart in an email.
"As the recent MLB HGH case demonstrates, the test works to stop dangerous drug use in sport and it appears with this decision that the union lawyers sadly have decided to cover for the dirty players by obstructing the league from implementing this test to further protect the health and safety of the clean players and the integrity of the game.”
The NFL would treat an HGH positive the same as if a player tested positive for steroids, meaning a first-time offender would receive a four-game suspension.