Ineffective Blood Test for hGH to Make Its NFL Debut

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The National Football League (NFL) became the first major professional sports league in the United States to start blood testing for human growth hormone (hGH). Major League Baseball (MLB) currently randomly tests players in the minor leagues for hGH but has resisted testing players in the major leagues.

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) ratified the new collective bargaining agreement last week. The issue of steroids and human growth hormone was the last item to be considered in the collective bargaining process before the players union reached an agreement.

The NFLPA agreed to implement blood testing for hGH for every player once every year along with random and unannounced out-of-competition testing. The hGH testing remains contingent on whether the NFLPA is satisfied with the manner in which the testing and appeals process is implemented.

While anti-doping crusaders are lauding the introduction of hGH testing in the NFL as a major victory, they are overlooking the fact that the blood test for hGH is largely considered ineffective. Its ineffectiveness is due to the fact that the window for detecting exogenous hGH use with the blood test is extremely short – less than 48 hours.

The hGH blood test has been in existence since the 2004 Athens Olympics and after thousands and thousands of tests, it can claim only a handful of analytical positives for hGH.

British rugby player Terry Newton was reported to be the first athletes caught using hGH as a result of an analytical positive from the blood test. However, the truth of the matter is that the drug testers knew in advance that Newton was using human growth hormone before they tested him.

Newton was “target tested” after the United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) was tipped off to his hGH use through “intelligence gathering”. (Sadly, Terry Newton committed suicide shortly after UKAD suspended him for two years.)

It is unlikely that anyone will soon be caught using hGH in the NFL using the new hGH blood test.

Nonetheless, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its national organization in the United States, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), praised the NFL for testing for HGH.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, was cautiously optimistic at seeing the NFL doping policies continue to move in the direction of the international standard promoted by WADA.

Yet, it seems increasingly clear that USADA will never be satisfied with the doping policies of any professional sports league until they hire USADA to implement WADA-style testing.




Keating, S. (August 5, 2011). NFL-New HGH tests applauded by anti-doping chiefs. Retrieved from