Congress, Dick Butkus to take up HGH testing
- Published: Dec. 12, 2012 at 06:57 a.m.
WASHINGTON -- Nearly two seasons since signing a labor deal that paved the way for HGH testing in the NFL, the league and the players' union still haven't agreed to implement anything. The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to jointly pick a scientist to help resolve that impasse.
So now Congress steps in. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for human growth hormone, a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, such as increasing speed or improving vision.
"The players are claiming that the testing is questionable. What's bothering me about all of this is that the players made an agreement in 2011 ... that they would begin the human growth hormone testing, and it seems to me that they have thrown roadblocks and found excuses not to do it. And that concerns me. An agreement is an agreement," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking committee Democrat, who noted that he expects there will be additional hearings.
"We also want to make sure that the players are treated fairly," Cummings said. "We want to hear the science, so we can make some valid judgments as to the players' allegations that this may not be valid."
The committee did not ask anyone from the league or union to testify Wednesday. Scheduled witnesses include Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers, and National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.
The collective bargaining agreement that ended the NFL lockout in August 2011 included a provision for HGH testing as soon as last season -- but only once the NFLPA approved the process.
"The players agreed to HGH testing in the CBA because they believe in a clean game. They did not, however, agree to an artificial timeline to impose a testing protocol that has no transparency in the underlying science nor a fair due process that is outlined," union spokesman George Atallah said.
NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees the league's drug program, said the sport has been "trying to do whatever needed to be done to advance the ball" on HGH testing.
"I am hopeful because, among other things, the hearing presumably will put to rest the questions of whether the test is safe, practical, reliable and appropriate for NFL players," Birch said. "If that occurs, it may present an opportunity for the parties to resume serious discussions on how to implement it, rather than being sort of lost in the trenches discussing the questions about its reliability."