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NFL players OK new labor pact

League aims to test players' blood for HGH, pending the union's approval.

August 05, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum (tan shorts) walks past Jets players who recently signed contracts with the team during training camp on Thursday, when the players were able to practice after the collective bargaining agreement was ratified.
Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum (tan shorts) walks past Jets players… (Julio Cortez / Associated…)

NFL players on Thursday ratified a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, marking the official end of the labor fight and opening the door for more thorough league-wide drug testing.

The NFL stands to become the first major sports league that tests blood for human growth hormone. The prior CBA allowed only for urine testing, which is not a reliable way to detect HGH.

Pending final approval by the players' union, the league will be able to test each player annually for HGH.

"The goal is to begin testing for HGH the first week of the regular season," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "Over the next several weeks, we will discuss and develop with the union the specific arrangements for the test."

The players have 30 days to review and agree to the new drug-testing policy. If they do not approve it, the system reverts to 2010 rules, which don't allow for an independent arbitrator to hear an appeal.

"We have to see if we agree with the test," Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis told reporters. "If we agree with the test, then it's legit. If not, they have to come up with another one."

There has been widespread conjecture over the years that some players have used performance-enhancing drugs that have gone undetected because of the limitations of testing methods. Adding fuel to that fire is the dramatic spike in players who weigh 300 pounds or more.

Anthony Butch, director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, said blood testing "is a good thing because it will determine whether everybody's speculation is right that players are doping with HGH. If no one tests positive, that speculation will begin to go away."

However, Butch said, the current blood testing for HGH has a detection window that lasts only 36 to 48 hours.

"But there are other tests that hopefully will be approved soon that will have a longer detection window," he said. "A couple of weeks would be nice. The longer the better."

The final approval of the CBA allowed for the "league year" to begin and had an impact on all 32 training camps. Players who had signed contracts on July 26 or later were finally able to join their teammates in drills.

Jim Caldwell, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said the fact that many veterans were not allowed to practice until the deal was ratified worked in the favor of rookies looking to get extra practice time. That said, he welcomed the resolution and the opportunity to resume business as usual.

"Now obviously that's going to change a bit, we're going to get some pretty seasoned veterans back out at certain positions. Therefore their numbers are going to be cut down drastically, but it will be a great infusion of enthusiasm because they're chomping at the bit to get out there," Caldwell said. "So it will be fun to get them all together tomorrow."

Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, said the approval opens a new chapter for the league.

"To be able to come up with a 10-year agreement in today's sports world is really both unprecedented and great for all of us, all the fans," Lurie said. "None of us wants to go through this kind of stuff every three or four years. …

"The other thing is the formula the NFL has that's really the envy of all sports leagues around the world."

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