The NFL and the NFL Players Association are finally making headway on their almost 2-year stalemate over HGH testing . . . maybe. According to several news outlets, the Players Association will allow a “human growth hormone population study” to take place before the season starts. This study will involve drawing blood for testing, one of the major sticking points in the battle over HGH testing that began back in 2011. The purpose of the study is to establish a normal level of growth hormone in NFL athletes, that way when the specific drug test for HGH is administered during the season, there will be a baseline to compare it to.
Even though this seems like progress in the war over drug testing specifically for HGH between the NFL and the NFLPA, there’s still some issues to iron out before the program can get underway. First of all, the study is relying on a blood test because that’s the only reliable method to test for excess HGH, as a urine test will not pick up on abnormal levels. The NFLPA wants to ensure that any samples drawn for the stdy will not be kept and be open for retesting at a later date, say . . . mid-season. This way, a positive HGH test can’t be used against a player later on. And with some with insider knowledge of football estimating that between 60-70% of players are using HGH (as former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason asserted in a 2012 interview), it would seem likely that drawing blood for the baseline test would result in just a few positive tests.
With some saying HGH use is running rampant, and others shooting down those percentages as too high, establishing a reliable base for comparison may seem like a reasonable idea. However, there are a few problems with that theory, too. The population study that is being proposed will involve drawing blood from NFL players and performing an isoform test to determine the ratio of different types of human growth isoforms in the body. Synthetic HGH, which is what players tend to use and is injected into the body via syringe, comes in a specific weight and would show up on a blood test as abnormal. Testing non-HGH users to determine what the natural level of HGH in an NFL football player looks like would allow for the testers to set a limit for HGH levels, and in theory, anyone testing above that limit could be said to be illegally injecting synthetic HGH. The problem? If Boomer, and other football sources, are correct then the testers will be hard pressed to find a population of NFL players who don’t already take HGH. Establishing the level too high would mean that the majority of players tested once the procedure is in place would never test positive, making the whole point of the testing procedure moot.
As with many issues surrounding athlete performance enhancement, drug testing, and professional sports, there are many factors to consider when determining how best to “tackle” the issue, and many questions raised along the way. Will the study be able to establish a reliable limit? Are the samples drawn during the study going to be used only for the study? Is the isoform test the best test for the NFL to be considering, or would they be better off administering the biomarker test like they do at the Olympics? And, finally, the most important question of all: will testing clean up the sport? Stay tuned…