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Join Date: Apr 2004
Is the NFL Telegraphing Drug Tests?
This Wall Street Journal piece begs the question that I've always asked. It sometimes makes you wonder if the NFL truly wants to "clean" things up.
In Some Cases, Players Are Given a Day's Notice Before a Test; Experts Call it 'Concerning'
By REED ALBERGOTTI
After the Green Bay Packers' Jan. 9 playoff win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Pepper Burruss, the team's head trainer, wove through the locker room carrying a piece of paper with a list of names. When he reached Scott Wells, the team's starting center, he stopped. "I'll see you tomorrow," Mr. Burruss said.
Mr. Wells instantly knew what the trainer meant and was mildly annoyed. "I just had one," he said. Before moving on, Mr. Burruss told Mr. Wells he should be ready "between 10 and two."
When the trainer left, Mr. Wells turned to a reporter and shrugged. "Drug test," he said.
The NFL has long maintained that its drug testing program, which administers some 15,000 tests a year, is one of the toughest in North American sports. But anti-doping experts say exchanges like the one between Mr. Burruss and Mr. Wells earlier this month raise serious questions about the general effectiveness of the program.
The problem, they say, is that by giving an athlete notice of a drug test the following day, one that would not be conducted for at least 15 hours, the Packers give the player ample time to take measures to "beat" the test by distorting his sample. When Olympic athletes are visited by collectors, they're required to produce samples immediately and without leaving the testers' sight. "If you're going to do advanced warning, you might as well not test," said David Howman, director general of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees drug testing in all Olympic sports. "Half an hour is a lot of warning. That's how quickly you can manipulate the tests."
The advance notice appears to violate the NFL's Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances, which states that all players who are subjected to in-season drug testing will be notified "on the day of the test."
"It's obviously concerning," said Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "The world knows you can't give advanced notice for testing for it to be effective."
Mr. Burruss, through the team, declined to discuss the matter. Mr. Wells, through his agent, declined to comment further. A Packers spokesman confirmed that the notifications were for league-mandated drug tests, but deferred comment to the league office.
The NFL said the Packers had not violated any NFL rules by notifying Mr. Wells of his test in advance. A league spokesman said these advance notifications were a "limited exception" to the league's normal testing procedure that had been implemented by the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the agency the league hired to conduct tests. The spokesman said the NFL and the NFL Players Association had input on the procedures. The NFLPA did not respond to requests for comment. The Center for Drug Free Sport declined to comment.
Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president of law and labor policy, said teams are notified about individual tests this far in advance only on game days. The reason, Mr. Birch said, is that many players are given days off after a game, and the league wants to make sure they show up to meet the collectors. Under the policy, if a player is notified of a test but fails to appear, the NFL can take disciplinary action.
Mr. Birch said he does not agree that the advance warning compromises the accuracy of the tests. He said NFL players are given surprise tests on other days of the week and that the two laboratories the league uses to test samples screen them to make sure the players haven't tried to manipulate the results by diluting their urine or taking so-called "masking agents" that can hide or remove traces of banned substances.
Mr. Birch said the NFL does not conduct drug tests on game days because the teams are travelling and the logistics are too complicated.
Anti-doping experts say that if athletes know they won't be tested on the day of competition and will be warned about an upcoming test a day after the event, it makes it easier for them to cheat. For instance, an NFL player who has a Sunday game could take the endurance-boosting drug EPO on Saturday night, knowing all traces would have left his system in time for a Monday morning drug test.
Experts also say there are some powerful stimulants players could take on the morning of a game with no fear of failing a test the next day.
Andy Parkinson, chief executive of U.K. Anti-Doping, the national doping agency that also handles drug testing for the English Premier League and Rugby League, said game-day testing is crucial. "As soon as you start making it predictable, or providing advanced notice, which makes it predictable, you start to allow the small minority of athletes to change their behavior to get around the system," he said.
Don Catlin, the founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, which still tests some samples for the NFL, said there are masking agents available that can't be detected. Mr. Catlin also said that people who help athletes cheat have found new ways to control the volume and consistency of athlete's urine, especially given enough time. "It's amazing what they can do," says Mr. Catlin. "If you don't have surprise testing, they can run rings around you."
This isn't the first time this season that anti-doping officials have expressed concern about the NFL's program. In August, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco posted a photo on Twitter that showed a printed notice hanging in his locker telling him to report for a drug test.
Anti-doping experts said this method of informing players gave them too much time to take evasive measures. The Bengals declined to comment.
A PFT commentary on the above article.:
Advance notice for drug testing calls NFL procedures into question
NFL players are sometimes told on Sunday that they’ll be asked to provide a urine sample on Monday. And some drug-testing experts believe that giving advance notice calls into question whether the NFL is making it too easy for cheaters to beat the system.
“If you’re going to do advanced warning, you might as well not test,” David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, told the Wall Street Journal. “Half an hour is a lot of warning. That’s how quickly you can manipulate the tests.”
If a player knows in advance when he’s going to be tested, there are ways for him to cheat the system. For instance, a player could take EPO on Saturday night, knowing that he won’t be tested on Sunday, when it will help him get through the game. By Monday, it could have cleared his system. Advance notice could also help a player get away with cheating by giving them time to dilute his urine, take a masking agent or grab a Whizzinator. That’s why doping experts criticized the NFL in August after Chad Ochocinco revealed that he had been given advance warning about a drug test.
According to the Wall Street Journal account, teams giving players a day’s notice has happened as recently as this year’s playoffs, when the Packers’ head trainer went through the team’s locker room after the win over the Eagles to alert players that they’d need to submit a sample the next day. This despite the fact that the league’s policies say players are to be notified “on the day of the test.”
“It’s obviously concerning,” said Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “The world knows you can’t give advanced notice for testing for it to be effective.”
But the NFL apparently doesn’t know.