Six months in advance of the combine, this caution for the players who likely will attend the annual workouts: An NFL spokesman on Tuesday confirmed to The Sports Xchange via e-mail that the league "fully expects" HGH testing to be included in the regular drug screening conducted on the 300 or so players who attend the Indianapolis job fare.
What effect will this semi-public service announcement have on the contingent of NFL hopefuls for 2012?
Hopefully, a lot. But if history is any indication, well, regrettably, probably not as much as it should.
League senior vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch on Tuesday, via national conference call with reporters, outlined the basics of the agreement, part of the new CBA, which allows the NFL to institute HGH testing. Part of the unspoken deterrent to using Human Growth Hormone, Birch suggested, will be the "constant threat" of year-round testing to which the NFL and reconstituted NFLPA agreed.
In theory, he's right, since the testing is random, and a player can be screened up to six times in the offseason, with no limit in-season, a process that will include for the first time tests on game days. In theory, though, no player at the combine should ever test positive for drugs, since they know well in advance that the screenings are a part of the process, and have more than sufficient time to preemptively flush their systems of any substances that might register a red flag.
Yet virtually every year, it seems, a few NFL prospects inexplicably test positive for drugs, often marijuana, and league scouts are left to wonder about the dangerous combination of stupidity and audacity. Anyone want to wager right now, a full half-year in advance of the Indianapolis session, that some callow college player gets nabbed by the league's well intentioned HGH net?
Some guys, no matter the warnings or the consequences, simply aren't smart enough or diligent enough, to quit cheating. Players at the combine have been known to light up a joint the night before their drug tests. Then again, the union for years declined to endorse HGH testing. Something about the required blood test being invasive, and the trumped-up yet convenient rationalization that the league might use the tablespoon of blood needed for the HGH assessment to secretly test for other things.
The NFLPA ultimately agreed in the recent CBA negotiations to include HGH testing in the new 10-year labor accord.
It certainly was not unanimously well received among executive director DeMaurice Smith's constituents. Since the acceptance of HGH testing in the CBA was confirmed, a process Birch said will result in "clean competition and a level playing field," the reaction of veteran players has been mixed. Kudos, though, to the NFL for pushing the agenda. And to commissioner Roger Goodell, who was a whipping boy of sorts during the negotiations for several outspoken players, for sticking to his guns on the issue. And, yeah, even to Smith, for understanding that the protests of some of his rank-and-file were unfounded.
The NFL will invest millions in equipment, logistics and administration of the HGH testing. But as Birch noted, the testing was part of the "critical step" in the evolution of the NFL's drug policy, an overarching program that by far is the leader among the country's professional sports leagues.
There is, of course, no plu-perfect testing protocol for determining the presence of many of the substances the NFL has banned. The science for better living (and, thus, playing) through chemistry often outdistances the methodology for detecting the use of performance enhancing drugs. It would be naive to suggest that the labs will submit and simply throw in the towel in their race to stay ahead of the law.
But Birch reiterated Tuesday that the NFL is "very comfortable" with its system, which is expected to commence with the first game of the season, and that even game-day tests should not be "overly disruptive" to teams and players. Hard to fathom, isn't it, that players would not welcome such an initiative?
It is, to be sure, an idea whose time has come. And even if HGH testing hasn't been universally embraced by the players who will be subjected to the screenings, it is good for the game.
Now, if someone can just drive home that point to the college prospects who figure to be invited to the combine next February, then the NFL might actually be able to embark on a generation of HGH-free players.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.