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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Support for Blood Tests Increasing in Players, Reliable Test for HGH on the Horizon

More and more prominent players are coming forward saying they support blood testing in Major League Baseball. Some were even in favor of giving samples to be frozen until a reliable human growth hormone test is available. Both MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, and Players Association president, Don Fehr, have said they will consider such a test when one becomes available. There is currently no commercially available/reliable test for human growth hormone, but one appears on the way soon.

The World Anti-Doping Agency recently said that an effective blood test for hGH would be in place for the Beijing Olympics. Athletes were tested during the 2004 Athens and 2006 Turin Olympics but tests revealed no positive results. Because those tests were only administered at the games themselves they could easily be beaten simply by letting the drug clear one’s system. The new test should allow for year round testing and according to WADA director, David Howman, would catch athletes using hGH within a timeframe of "more than 48 hours."

Not wanting athletes to have information that might help them beat the test, WADA president, John Fahey, wouldn’t give details of how the test worked but was very confident that it was airtight.

"We all know these things end up in court more often than not. It's got to withstand the legal challenge as well. No reason to believe that all of that won't be in place and that there will be a capacity to test at the Beijing Olympics."

This offseason was a dramatic one for Major League Baseball, with the Mitchell Report’s release and the Clemens/McNamee dispute the issue of performance enhancing drugs affected everyone in the game. Now that players are all at spring training they’re being asked their opinions about matters such blood testing for hGH.

Players such as outspoken Los Angeles Dodger, Jeff Kent, the Indians’ CC Sabathia, and the Rockies’ Matt Holiday said they were willing to give blood samples even if the test isn’t ready yet.

From Kent:

"I'd like to see every player take a blood test and have the samples frozen… Not everyone in the game is using HGH, but I would bet it still is being abused.”

"Why not have blood tests? If ultimately you want a clean game, then it needs to happen.”

From Holliday:

"Obviously, we've got some work to do with the growth hormone issue, and I think some people have said it: 'Start taking blood now, and keep 'em until we've got a good test.' I mean, I'm all in favor of whatever we have to do to clean the game up and get rid of the stuff they say is undetectable,"

The Houston Astros’ Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman both said they would submit to blood testing and refuted the idea that such a test would be an invasion of privacy as the union has claimed in the past.

In a nutshell, the test administrator is present, and watching, while the player is submitting his sample. Oswalt said he would rather give blood than have someone watch him urinate.

"If that's not an invasion of privacy, what is?" (Oswalt) said.

Berkman concurred.

"And stage fright's a real deal," he said. "If you can't go in front of somebody ... you just mentally lock up. I'd rather stick my arm out and they can take blood out of me all day long."

Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter also said they were willing submit to blood testing but were somewhat skeptical.

From Jones:

"I don't care. I'm not on anything, so it doesn't bother me. The only people I would say who would object would be people afraid of needles, or who are on something."

"You're talking about individual guys coming out and saying they wouldn't mind. I'm sure if [players union head] Don Fehr sat us down and listed the pros and cons, and what the majority of players thought, it might be different."

And Jeter:

"I think it would be a positive, but then they would come up with something else and people would say, 'They should test for something else.' Where does it stop?"

At the annual dinner of the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Mike Lowell spoke about how important it is to have a reliable test before it is implemented.

"If it's 99 percent accurate, that's going to be seven false positives. Ninety-three percent is 70 guys. That's almost three whole rosters.”

"You're destroying someone's reputation. What if one of the false positives is Cal Ripken? Doesn't it put a black mark on his career?"

This is a very legitimate concern. Implementing an hGH test that wasn’t completely reliable would greatly affect the integrity of the testing program. Not only would such a test hurt the victim of a false-positive, but every player who really did test positive would have a legitimate way to cast doubt on their own test result.

Major League Baseball Players’ Association president, Don Fehr, recently said the union would consider a blood test for hGH but only when it was proven to be reliable.

"If and when a blood test is available and it can be signed and validated by people other than those that are trying to sell it to you, then we'd have to take a hard look at it."

 
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