SBJ/October 27 - November 2, 2003/Labor Agents

NFL adds THG to drug-test list; other leagues keep an eye on the story

The NFL will begin testing players for the newly discovered steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) as part of its regular drug-testing program this week, but the league will have to hold discussions with the NFL Players Association before retesting any player samples used in previous drug tests, said players union chief Gene Upshaw.

Under the NFL's drug policy, about five players per team are randomly tested every week.

Upshaw added that there is a possibility that NFL players who were subpoenaed as part of the federal grand jury investigation into Balco Laboratories of Burlingame, Calif., could have their samples retested, but that is a matter for discussion.

Upshaw said he is aware that some NFL players were subpoenaed, but he would not name them or say how he is aware of their involvement in the probe. But, he added, "I would never agree to retest every sample at this point. I don't think there is probable cause to do that."

Upshaw said he told league officials that as many as 10 and as few as five NFL players could be subpoenaed in the probe.

NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw
The NFL collective-bargaining agreement provides that players may be tested for steroids and "related" drugs, an intentional wording that allows the league to add tests for new substances as they are discovered.

"THG is covered by our program," said NFL spokesman Greg Aeillo. "It is a steroid and it will be tested for, and we are not providing a timetable for the testing. That is as much as we are going to say."

Officials from other leagues said they are monitoring the unfolding story.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor and human resources, said, "Performance-altering substances are an issue that is of great concern to the commissioner."

Under the MLB collective-bargaining agreement, "a new substance like this could be added to the panel [of substances] we test for," Manfred said. "At some point, depending on how the story develops, we would intend to pursue the addition of the substance to this panel."

NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league was monitoring the story, although the NHL labor agreement does not allow drug testing of players, except as a matter of after-care for players under the auspices of a substance abuse or behavioral abuse program.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league must talk to the National Basketball Players Association before any substance can be added to the banned list, and the league had not, as of last week, had such discussions. "We will have to make that decision in the future," he said.

Attorneys who specialize in representing athletes said they are concerned about a witch-hunt mentality that may assume that athletes who have been called to testify in the probe have used the performance-altering steroid.

"I think it is outrageous that anyone would make an assumption that just because a player has been subpoenaed that that is some indication that the player is involved with this substance in question," said Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney who has represented players unions and professional athletes. "The last time I looked we have a presumption of innocence, even for people who are charged, and not a single one of these players have been charged with anything."

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Terry Madden, in a statement announcing that unnamed track and field athletes had tested positive for THG, said, "This is a far cry from athletes accidentally testing positive as a result of taking contaminated nutritional supplements. Rather, this is a conspiracy involving chemists, coaches and certain athletes using what they developed to be 'undetectable' designer steroids to defraud their fellow competitors and the American and world public who pay to attend sports events."

Upshaw said he is concerned that reputations of NFL players may be ruined in the press scramble to uncover the story. "Your name is thrown out there and you are not involved, and how do you get your reputation back?" he said.

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