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Union says it will discuss league's proposal to blood-test players for HGH

UPDATED (7:14 p.m.)...

The NFL Players Association expressed a willingness Wednesday to discuss the league's proposal to blood-test players for human growth hormone.

The players' union issued a written statement from Stacy Robinson, its director of player development, in which Robinson said that union officials "look forward to discussing the NFL's proposed blood testing program in our next" labor negotiating session with the league.

Representatives of the league and union are scheduled to meet Thursday in Indianapolis, site of the NFL scouting combine.

The union's statement stops short of endorsing the league's proposal to blood-test players for HGH, a measure to which the union has had a long-standing objection.

"The NFLPA along with the NFL has supported research to find a suitable test that will detect sustained HGH use," Robinson said in the written statement. "We have and will continue to work with the NFL to build a system that is fair, reliable and maintains the integrity of our game and the health and safety of our players.

"In 2007 the NFLPA agreed to strengthen its Steroid Policy to discipline players if they are found through sufficient credible evidence to have used, possessed or distributed performance enhancing substances of any kind. We believe in and collectively bargained for a system that supports the testing of all banned substances. We look forward to discussing the NFL's proposed blood testing program in our next CBA meeting."

The union's statement appears to represent a softening of its long-held stance that players should not be subjected to blood-testing. Gene Upshaw, the union's late executive director, was a strong proponent of the NFL's steroid-testing program but said he would not allow players to be blood-tested. Upshaw's stance was that the union would support testing for HGH once a reliable urine test for it was developed.

But even if the statement is a softening of that stance, people familiar with the union's position on the issue said Wednesday that union leaders want to see further evidence that the current blood test for HGH is reliable before agreeing to allow NFL players to be blood-tested for HGH.

The league currently has HGH on its list of banned performance-enhancing substances but does not test for it.

A professional rugby player in England this week is believed to have become the first athlete to be suspended for testing positive for HGH use, a development that drug-testing experts have hailed as proof that a newly developed blood test for HGH is effective.

The league's proposal to incorporate blood-testing players for HGH into the NFL's steroid-testing program has been made to the union as part of the two sides' ongoing labor negotiations, sources said.

If it were to receive the union's approval, blood-testing for HGH could go into effect as soon as next season. A new labor deal probably won't be completed by then, but the two sides could implement the drug-testing change sooner via a separate agreement. The league and union annually discuss possible changes to their collectively bargained steroid-testing program.

Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of public relations, said Tuesday: "Our position is that HGH blood-testing has advanced to the point where we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program."

The NFL's steroid-testing program is run cooperatively by the league and the union. The NFL's program has been hailed by members of Congress in the past as being the best in professional sports. But the league and union clashed over the administration of the program after a group of players tested positive for a banned diuretic in 2008 contained in the weight loss product StarCaps.

By Mark Maske  |  February 24, 2010; 6:36 PM ET  | Category:  League , Steroids , Union Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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