World Anti-Doping Agency Helping NFL Beef Up Testing
"We've been trying to work as closely as we can with them," WADA director general David Howman told FanHouse on Tuesday. "We want to see them make their anti-doping program as tough as it possibly can be. We have had several fruitful conversations."
NFL officials traveled to to WADA's headquarters in a high-rise in Montreal last week. Howman said no firm date has been set, but the two will likely meet again later this summer.
And there's no lack of issues to discuss.
The NFL is fighting off a legal challenge to its authority over anti-doping rules that has dragged on for more than a year. Minnesota Vikings linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams (pictured) tested positive for a banned diuretic, but a judge blocked the league from enforcing a four-game ban. The court eventually ruled in the league's favor, but the Williamses, who are not related, filed an appeal and a judge recently agreed to stay their suspensions again.
The NFL Players Association supported the Williamses' lawsuit.
Howman said, while WADA may not be able to help in each individual case, it can lay the groundwork for a drug program that could pass legal muster more easily.
"We can give them guidance and background information on similar issues that we've faced around the globe," Howman said.
There's one issue that WADA doesn't have to deal with much as an independent organization tasked with setting doping standards for all Olympic sports: Players' unions. Such associations have long protested the use of blood tests, which is currently the only way to screen for human growth hormone. HGH is a synthetic hormone that can help increase muscle mass and aid in recovery from strenuous workouts.
It's a reality that the pro leagues finally seem to understand.
"We have been explaining that blood is the only way to proceed," Howman said. "We know how big an issue it is for them. We know it's an issue they want to address. HGH won't be detected in urine in my lifetime and I'm not that old. It's pie in the sky stuff."
Officials from the NFL and Major League Baseball have said they'd explore the issue, but each would have to get the approval of the players' union for any changes.
In an indictment unsealed in federal court last month, Toronto physician Anthony Galea allegedly supplied an NFL player with HGH. The Washington Post reported that Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss was treated with HGH by Galea.
The NFL has also launched a so-called biological passport-testing program, which monitors changes to different markers in urine -- instead of just looking for specific steroids or other banned substances -- that could give an indication a player is doping. NFL vice president of law and policy Adolpho Birch told FanHouse this week that program, which is currently anonymous and can't result in any penalties, is still in its early stages of development.
For an organization that once called out pro sports on a regular basis for lax doping standards, Howman has praised the efforts made by each league in recent years. Part of that is due to the Partnership for Clean Competition, a coalition WADA and all the major sports founded two years ago.
"There have been so many positive changes," Howman said. "The NHL has expressed an interest in working with us. The NBA is working closely with the International Basketball Federation. We've done reasonably well with the PGA Tour and we have been talking with Major League Baseball ... We are not where we were at six years ago."