The future of testing for human growth hormone is shaping up to be a contentious issue in negotiations between the NFL and the players' union, with the league supporting blood-based testing and the union less convinced about its validity.
Kevin Mawae, the president of the NFL Players Association, told The Associated Press on Sunday that the union is aware of developing tests, one of which is a blood test that could detect HGH for up to 14 days. But he said the union believes the test that is currently available, which has only about a 48-hour window of detection, "is not completely reliable."
"The testing of HGH is a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] issue that has been discussed on a number of different occasions," Mawae said in an e-mail to The AP. "The PA and the players of the NFL will always be in favor of fair and competitive play without the use of performance-enhancing drugs."
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March, which could lead to a work stoppage during the 2011 season. While the key issues are expected to revolve around finances -- the future of the salary cap and free agency -- there are signs that the future of drug testing will be an issue.
Over the past several months, the league has become a more vocal supporter of blood-based testing, saying the current blood test -- widely available since 2008, but not used by the NFL -- is reliable, while the test that's being developed could add another way to catch HGH users.
"I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that the short detection window by itself renders the [current] test inadequate," Adolpho Birch, who oversees the NFL's drug policy, told The AP in an interview last week. "It does provide a deterrent effect. A longer window is helpful and will do a lot to provide better detection. I don't know if it's a game-changer, per se, but it is important."
Experts at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency call the current test completely reliable and believe the new blood test could blunt the need for more research to develop a urine-based test, which has long been the preference of the football and baseball unions. A urine test is believed to be several years away and the NFL wants an HGH test in place sooner rather than later.
"In a perfect world, a urine test would be far easier for us to deal with and administer than a blood test," Birch said. "The problem is, we thought there was some chance a urine test could be developed. That's increasingly looking less likely. The practical reality is, we need to focus on a test that works, and the test that works is blood."
Mawae said the union knows there's no room for performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL.
"Quite frankly, players who use PEDs cheat themselves, cheat their peers, and cheat the game," he said. "We are well aware of the efforts in developing a reliable test for HGH, and to this point, understand that the test that is available is not completely reliable."