August 6, 2020

Selig, NFL Rushing to Judgment on Blood Testing

February 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Looks like Major League Baseball and the NFL could be headed for a major collision with its players over a blood test for human growth hormone.

Image by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The Washington Post is reporting today that the NFL has proposed implementing the blood test for HGH that tripped up a professional rugby player in Britain earlier this week. “Our position is that HGH blood testing has advanced to the point where we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program,” Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, told the Post.

This comes on the heels of last night’s report in the New York Times that baseball has already decided to use the blood test in the minor leagues.

“Major League Baseball, which had long been skeptical about a viable test for human growth hormone, now plans to implement blood testing for the substance in the minor leagues later this year, according to an official in baseball with direct knowledge of the matter.

“The decision to move ahead with blood testing comes one day after a British rugby player was suspended for testing positive for H.G.H. It was the first time that an athlete had been publicly identified for testing positive for the substance and was seen as overdue proof that the blood test, which has been in limited use for six years, actually works.”

Use of the blood test in the NFL and MLB requires the consent of the respective players unions. Both leagues are entering into contract negotiations with their players, and drug testing is expected to be one of the issues on the table. Both leagues used urine tests for performance enhancing drugs, but there is no urine test for HGH. And doubts remain about the reliability of the blood test used in England.

The NFL union has already told the Post that it will oppose the test. “At this point, there’s no reason to believe that blood-testing for NFL players will or should be implemented,” union assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah told The Post. “We should instead focus on preserving the drug-testing policy that we have in place.”

It appears that Bud Selig isn’t content to wait. The Commissioner, who has worked feverishly to clear his name as the man who presided over baseball’s era of performance enhancing drugs, is now rushing to test minor leaguers before all the questions are answered.

Victor Conte, who knows a few things about drug testing, asked two good questions in an email last night. “Where are the published studies in peer reviewed scientific journals demonstrating the validity of blood testing for HGH?” Conte wrote me. “Does this case really provide proof that the available testing is effective?”

No, says Charles E. Yesalis, professor emeritus of exercise and sport science at Penn State and one of the world’s foremost anti-doping experts. “They have this test for some time and they only caught one guy,”  Yesalis told the Times. “I wouldn’t bet my life on that test.”

But it looks like Selig is ready to bet the careers and reputations of minor leaguers on it. Look, everyone wants drugs out of baseball, but does that mean we should rush to use an questionable test based on one positive result? Selig apparently thinks so, and he’s well within his rights to unilaterally impose his judgment since minor leaguers aren’t protected by the players union.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Jon Pessah writes on the intersection of sports & culture. He is a regular contributor at TrueSlant ( and a founding Editor of ESPN The Magazine. He Tweets @jonpessah.

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