NFL and Players Union Tackle Blood Testing Before Congress

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a Jan. 30, 2009 presse conference
Source: Image of Sport, www.topnews.in, Feb. 2, 2009

The NFL announced on Aug. 6, 2011 that it would become the first major American sports league to conduct blood tests, but no tests have been done yet. National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, representatives of the players union, and US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart met Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, with leaders of a congressional subcommittee to discuss human-growth hormone (HGH) testing for NFL players. Goodell said after the meeting, “Testing should begin within two weeks. That was the chairman’s instructions. Everybody around the table agreed.”

The announcement may have been premature. Players union spokesman George Atallah told Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com, “We have an agreement to test for HGH. What we don’t have an agreement on is the process and the protocol to implement the test.”

The implementation of testing for HGH was contingent on the players union agreeing to the testing methods. The union is seeking additional information to address concerns over the reliability of the test.

An Oct. 3, 2011 letter signed by 23 scientists and lab directors supporting the validity of the test was sent to Goodell and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) union Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. The letter, which was made public by the Associated Press on Oct. 12, 2011, states, “The delay is troubling because the scientific validity, reliability and accuracy of the … test is universally accepted and attendees at the Symposium recognize that the test is currently the best way to detect and deter the use of this dangerous, performance enhancing drug.” A second letter signed by a separate group of roughly three dozen scientists and lab directors also endorsed the test.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said, “This further demonstrates that there is simply no excuse for delaying the start of HGH testing in the NFL. The scientific validity of the test is unquestioned. The abuse of growth hormone must be deterred to protect the health of our players and send the right message to young athletes in all sports.”

Atallah refused to comment on the contents of the letters, saying the union wanted to further review the letters and are seeking additional information about the test in order to conduct its own analysis. The NFLPA has requested a population study of the test because the union believes that NFL athletes may have naturally higher HGH levels than other athletes. The World Anti-Doping Agency has declined the request, saying that there are sufficient data available in the public domain.

The Associated Press reports that, “Even the test’s biggest supporters agree that the HGH test has a weakness in that it only detects synthetic growth hormone for around 24 hours after ingestion.”

Sources:

“AP: Top Scientists Endorse HGH Test,” www.usatoday.com, Oct. 12, 2011

Frederic J. Frommer, “HGH testing: NFL, Union Have Differing Take,” www.sacbee.com, Oct. 14, 2011

“NFL, Union to Meet with Lawmakers on HGH Tests,” www.cbsnews.com, Oct. 13, 2011