Drugs in sports: Who is winning the doping war?
As scientists close the gap on doping detection, athletes bent on cheating can still game the system. Stricter enforcement from league authorities is critical to redeeming sports scandalized by doping – cycling, baseball, and potentially the NFL.
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Other professional sports leagues that follow WADA guidelines include the International Tennis Federation, all arms of the Professional Golfers' Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and the English Premier League. The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the NFL don't follow the WADA code: They conduct their drug testing in-house and hand out much lighter penalties. That opens them up to criticism.Skip to next paragraph
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For now, the NFL's drug scandal is limited to whispered conjecture and incidents bordering on farce. Most recently, a report surfaced linking Lewis to deer-antler spray, which contains a growth hormone called IGF-1. The substance is banned by the NFL.
The league has plenty on its plate already as it faces growing questions about the game's long-term effects on player health. (Recently, President Obama told The New Republic that, if he had a son, he would have to think long and hard about letting him play football.)
The question of PEDs is a comparative blip, but it threatens to grow. Currently, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is in charge of the antidoping program. But in-season testing is virtually nonexistent.
That was set to change with the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement, which stipulated that the players union would institute an in-season drug testing regimen that included regular blood testing for human growth hormone (HGH). But that was two seasons ago, and some, including members of Congress, are growing impatient.
The House Oversight Committee sent a letter to the NFLPA Jan. 28 warning that NFL players and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith may soon be called to testify about why an in-season testing program has yet to be implemented.
The NFLPA has cited concern about the lack of a suitable appeals process. It won't agree to a third-party arbitration system – as MLB has – and it is wary of commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to discipline players. The NFLPA also worries about the potential for false positives.
HGH is one of the trickier drugs to catch, particularly with a urine test alone, because it has a very small window of detection. Used to build muscle and reduce fat, the drug can be taken in very small doses during competition and is hard to accurately spot because it exists in the body already (especially in young males, who have a lot of it).
USADA Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers testified before Congress in December that "no test is perfect, but there hasn't been a single false positive."