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HGH test comes under serious questioning from players

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The NFL's goal to be the first major professional sports league to implement testing for human growth hormone appears a long way from coming to fruition.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said Thursday that players have serious questions about the safety and reliability of the test. He said the World Anti-Doping Agency hasn't turned over the information that the union has requested.

"The one thing that we don't know is what that population test looks like," Smith told The Associated Press after addressing students during a sports law symposium at Santa Clara University. "Who was included in that study? What were the ratio levels?

"Were they tested, or was that population tested in conditions or similar situations that would mirror professional football athletes? I don't know. And that's information that they (WADA) refuse to turn over."

HGH is naturally occurring in the body. The isoform test first used by WADA in 2004 -- and which became more widespread in 2008 -- is designed to detect synthetic HGH by measuring the ratio naturally occurring in the body against a population test.

WADA handles drug testing for the Olympics and is largely accepted as the gold standard for worldwide drug testing. Smith said he's concerned that it doesn't take into account the different types of bodies and conditioning routines of football players.

"We made a number of requests for WADA, specifically about the scientific justifications for the test that they provide," Smith said. He wouldn't elaborate on the other requests or set a timetable for the union's plans.

Blood testing for HGH was part of the collective bargaining deal struck between the league and players this summer -- but only if the union agreed to the methods. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to Smith last week reiterating the league's eagerness to implement HGH testing.

The NFL also notified teams that no HGH testing will be conducted before the season begins because the union couldn't agree to the terms. The league has long disputed the union's claims that the test isn't valid.

During an appearance in Green Bay before the Packers and Saints opened the season Thursday night, Goodell said testing still could be implemented during the season, pending approval from the union.

"I think it's important for player health and safety that they're not using HGH," Goodell said. "I also think it's important for the integrity of the game. So we're going to continue to pursue it aggressively. We're ready to go. The players have some more questions, which they are pursuing, but we're waiting to hear from them."

Some players have expressed concerned with blood testing before games or immediately afterward, not wanting to feel faint or weak. Others are simply skeptical about the technology behind the process.

Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, believes players eventually will approve HGH testing -- maybe even this year -- once everything has been reviewed.

"We have never shied away from the fact that (HGH) needs to be tested," Dawkins said. "But it's just doing it the right way and going about it in not such an invasive way as far as some of the things that were considered here recently."

Cleveland BrownsHall of Fame running back Jim Brown was among the former players who participated in a panel about steroids at Santa Clara. Brown is all for testing athletes, but he also believes talent wins out over any drugs.

"If I look at football players today, I could not tell you who is taking steroids by looking at their bodies," said Brown, now 75. "But I can tell you who can play the game."

Members of Congress also have urged the two sides to reach an agreement.

In a letter to the league and the union Thursday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., encouraged both to resolve their differences so that testing can begin sometime this season.

"While blood testing for HGH involves a relatively new technique, there are virtually no questions about the scientific credibility of this testing methodology," Waxman wrote. "The test is approved and used by the World Anti-Doping Agency, has been used for Olympic testing, and earlier this month was used in the United States to identify a professional athlete using the drug."

That athlete was minor-league baseball player Mike Jacobs.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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