Craig: HGH testing on hold as NFL, union dig in

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2013 - 6:16 AM

Both sides say they want tests, but a lack of trust is the main obstacle.

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NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, left, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Photo: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press file

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said they were close to an agreement that would make the NFL the first U.S. sports league to test for human growth hormone (HGH).

That was 20 months ago. Twenty.

Supposedly, they’re still close. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball whizzed by with a plan in January and the NBA reportedly is getting set to leapfrog as well.

Goodell says the league wants to test ASAP. The union says ditto. But the mistrust between the two sides is paralyzing the process.

“From a players’ standpoint, we want to see the test,” said linebacker Chad Green- way, the Vikings’ union representative. “There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We want an even playing field. I want an even playing field, not even talking from the union side of things. Personally, I think everybody should be on the same field. So if HGH really is running rampant in the NFL — which we won’t know until we find out what the tests are going to show — then let’s get together and eliminate it from the NFL.”

For years, the stumbling block was needles since blood, not urine, is needed to test for HGH, a performance enhancer that theoretically could put both users and non-users at further risk of injuries. Now, the problem basically is neither side will trust the other when it comes to administering accurate tests and providing an appeals process that’s acceptable to both sides.

“We want safe and accurate testing,” said Greenway, who attended the annual union meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, earlier this month. “It has to be safe and accurate because when it comes to appeals in the NFL, they’re not always [fair], as we’ve come to find out.

“So you need to determine if the test is accurate and then what happens if there is a wrong test that shows up positive. You have to make sure the appeals process has the ability to get those wrong tests righted. That’s very important.”

Goodell’s position over the players as both judge and appellate judge with rare exception is a point of contention between the league and the union. It only got worse during the Saints’ bounty scandal, even after Goodell finally relented and recused himself from the appeals process. He appointed former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who softened the punishment of the players involved.

Smith said in January that HGH testing already would be in place in the NFL if the league had accepted a plan similar to the one in Major League Baseball. In that plan, the players can “appeal to a neutral arbitrator and challenge the underlying science” of a test.

NFL Senior Vice President Adolpho Birch said the league did agree to a third-party arbitrator and then accused the union of dragging its feet. He said the union’s insistence on challenging the “underlying science” of a test isn’t in step with the MLB program since the baseball union, he said, accepts HGH testing as reliable and scientifically sound.

Meanwhile, 20 months after the NFL and its union ended the lockout, the league’s drug-testing program still operates under 2010 rules. With no HGH testing, which both sides claim they want to help rid the game of cheaters while possibly increasing player safety at a time when that’s the hottest topic of discussion in the sport.

“Can we get it together in time for testing this season?” Greenway asked. “I don’t know. The timeline can be crazy. It’s already March and there’s a lot going on. But if it’s that big of an issue, I think something has to be figured out soon in the next couple of months.

“Both sides need to figure it out. I guess we’ll find out soon if it’ll be in place this fall. Like I said, just give me an even playing field. I’m all for HGH testing, as long as it’s done the right way.”

Twenty months later, both sides are still searching for that right way.

 

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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