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HGH Testing No Closer

While most of the sports world has been gazing at Vancouver, a piece of news has travelled across the Atlantic. The first athlete ever tested positive for HGH. You can read a few more details here (along with a pretty slanted view that it puts pressure on baseball). Notably, the player was caught through a blood test.

News of the test has put pressure on pro sports leagues, particularly the NFL and MLB, to respond. However, drug testing is complicated stuff. It must be collectively bargained, meaning the owners and players must agree on how it will be done. Since the owners aren't the ones being tested, and their reputations aren't on the line, it's never them who will stand in the way of agreements. So, it is particularly important to pay attention to how player unions respond.

Wednesday night, the MLBPA released this statement regarding the positive HGH test. This transcript is directly from a post by Maury Brown at The Biz of Baseball:
Human growth hormone is banned under our Joint Drug Program. Discipline has been imposed against players who have been found to have used HGH. We do not test currently for HGH, because no scientifically validated urine test exists. Our program calls for immediate and automatic implementation of urine testing for HGH once a scientifically validated test is available.
The Joint Program, negotiated several times with the Commissioner's Office, does not call for blood testing of players. Blood testing raises serious issues not associated with urine testing. Nonetheless, the Association has previously said that if a scientifically validated blood test for HGH was available, we would consider it.
This week, a British rugby player was suspended as a result of a reported positive blood test for HGH. This development warrants investigation and scrutiny; we already haveconferred with our experts on this matter, and with the Commissioner's Office, and we immediately began gathering additional information. However, a report of a single uncontested positive does not scientifically validate a drug test. As press reports have suggested, there remains substantial debate in the testing community about the scientific validity of blood testing for HGH. And, as we understand it, even those who vouch for the scientific validity of this test acknowledge that it can detect use only 18-36 hours prior to collection.
Putting these important issues aside, inherent in blood testing of athletes are concerns of health, safety, fairness and competition not associated with urine testing. We have conferred initially with the Commissioner's Office about this reported positive test, as we do regarding any development in this area. We look forward to continuing to jointly explore all questions associated with this testing -- its scientific validity, its effectiveness in deterring use, its availability and the significant complications associated with blood testing, among others.
The Association agrees with the Commissioner's Office that HGH use in baseball is not to be tolerated. We intend to act without delay to ascertain whether our Program can be improved as it relates to HGH. In so doing, however, we will not compromise the commitment to fairness on which our Program always has been premised.
It is easy to make out players to be villains when it comes to drug testing, especially when they resist it. The first conclusion anyone jumps to is that they are hiding something. The reality is that many players probably do have something to hide. It would be naive, and flat-out stupid, to think nobody uses HGH, especially in the wake of the steroids scandal.

I don't know enough about players in other sports, but at least in baseball they are not going to hold back proper HGH testing. The reason I pasted the entire MLBPA statement into this post, instead of just linking to it, is because of how important the reaction is. The union brings up some highly valid points about blood testing.

I'll admit, I'm a wuss, and I've never had my blood drawn. However, I've seen plenty of blood drives, and I know plenty of friends who have participated. Drawing blood is a draining process (literally). Some people faint, others get a little sick, and most everyone at least gets a little drowsy. Granted, donating blood and getting a little drawn are different, but the concerns raised by the MLBPA in this statement are similar. Blood testing would leave some players weak in the knees, which isn't great for them, or their team, as they try to stand up to a 95-mph fastball. There are legitimate safety concerns and competitive issues inherent to blood testing that are not problems with urine testing.

Furthermore, consider what baseball players have already agreed to. As the statement points out, a scientifically-approved urine test will be implemented immediately. They didn't even mention that all that was agreed to outside of normal negotiations. In other words, both sides came to the bargaining table and actually amended the CBA, which just doesn't happen in American pro sports (especially baseball, where negotiations have historically been awful).

I don't mean to make baseball players out to be patron saints here. Their probable widespread use of HGH is the only reason that testing is an issue in the first place. However, if/when the union resists and rejects blood testing, I hope their side of the story is told. They have taken unprecedented steps (along with the owners) to implement an HGH policy, and the concerns they have raised are valid as well.

The issue here is blood testing, not HGH testing, but it's way too easy to perceive the situation the other way around. In fact, it likely will be perceived the other way around in the mainstream media, because the only reason it is a story is thanks to HGH.

The MLBPA did an excellent job explaining their position with the statement they released. If it's any indication of how Michael Weiner will approach CBA negotiations, I'm optimistic on a good deal being reached. At the very least, he and his union have the right things in mind when it comes to HGH testing.