These sorts of questions are quite reasonable, according to Catlin. “You do want to test your test in the population that you’re going to be applying it to,” he said. “When WADA says we’ve already done that, my comment is, okay, show me your data, what did you do, who did you study and what were your results? That’s what independent scientists do.”
Another example: WADA has claimed there is only a 1-in-10,000 chance of a false positive. But Catlin said: “I don’t know where they got that. If they have actual data on that I’d certainly like to see it.” Nor does Yesalis know how WADA arrived at the figure; it simply announced it without providing the basis. “That’s not how science is done,” Yesalis said. “You publish, make it public, and let other scientists try to replicate your results.”
These are not small issues. Under the NFL’s proposed HGH code, players would be prevented from challenging the science behind the test in the event of a positive result. Once players agree to testing, they will have little legal recourse. So they need to be sure the test and the appeals process are fair. “The only right result in all of this is confidence in the testing procedure,” Smith said.
Asked to respond to union concerns, USADA executive director Travis Tygart said via e-mail, “The population study and the science behind the test is not really the issue; it is simply something the NFLPA is using as an excuse to delay doing what they agreed to do with the NFL in their collective bargaining agreement.” He also said “the world’s top scientists have all agreed that the test is scientifically valid” and contended that a separate NFL population study “is not necessary” and that “there is nothing unique about American football players.”
None of that breeds confidence without the scientific data. Nor does the fact that NFL players’ due process seems to have been already abused, and they haven’t taken a test yet. Tygart characterizes the union as stalling to protect “dirty” players. Whatever the union’s motives, to judge players already guilty simply for asking questions is, for lack of a better word, un-American. Smith called Tygart’s charge “repulsive” and wonders why he should submit to such an authority, and every American sports league should ask the same question.
Catlin believes WADA and USADA are reluctant to furnish data about the test because they don’t want to help athletes legally challenge it. “It could be used by lawyers against them,” Catlin said. “Well, yes it could. But that’s the nature of drugs in sports and the nature of lawsuits. You have to be able to prove your case.”
One solution to this impasse is for the NFL to simply go around WADA and USADA and develop its own testing. The union, in consultation with the anti-doping lab Aegis Sciences, proposes to do a new population study that would “fill the scientific void that WADA was unwilling to fill,” Smith said.
It’s hard to see how such a thing could hurt. The NBA players are also in discussions to adopt an HGH test but want it to be subject to the validation by “a neutral committee of experts.” That can’t hurt either. Fairness doesn’t come with secrecy. It comes with transparency.