Tom Pelissero, USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Players Association has approved details on protocol for the population study into human growth hormone it agreed to conduct with the league last month, strengthening hope HGH testing finally will be implemented in 2013.
But more details must still be worked out on the updated drug-testing policy that has been on hold for more than two years before anything - including the population study - is likely to go into effect, two people with knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.
E-mails from the union to its members, obtained by USA TODAY Sports last month, outlined the plan for players to provide blood samples during training camp physicals for the population study, which will determine what the "normal" HGH level is for an NFL player.
However many teams conduct those physicals in June, and the NFL made clear in a statement that its negotiations with the union are focused on "full resolution of any remaining issues, including the role of a population study" before the updated policy is put into effect.
"I'm not sure if guys understand what's going to take place at this point," Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told USA TODAY Sports last week. "It's been a little bit vague on some of the stuff as far as testing policies. I think we're going to learn a lot more here in the next calendar year.
"On that note, though, anything that cleans up the league from a performance-enhancement department is obviously a good thing."
Article 39, Section 7 of the collective bargaining agreement finalized in July 2011 stated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy would include "both annual blood testing and random blood testing for human growth hormone," with discipline at the same level as steroid use.
The deal provided for a timeline of several weeks to hammer out details on collection, transportation and testing of samples, but the process has gone far slower than that.
Among other issues, the union has insisted on the population study to vet its claim NFL players may have a higher natural level of HGH than people in the general population - a claim anti-doping experts have chided as a stall tactic.
"It definitely is something that, if guys are taking anything, we want to get it out the game," fullback Michael Robinson, the Seattle Seahawks' union rep, told USA TODAY Sports.
"We want to be part of the safest game out there. Testing for HGH is hard, though. Guys have different HGH (levels). We have to make sure that we have a nice range so guys will be able to fit into a safe range. ... Then you've got some freaks out there who just naturally (have higher levels). I expect Adrian Peterson's HGH (level) naturally is just off the charts compared to, like, mine, you know what I mean?"
Anti-doping experts have said there was no need for a separate population study for NFL players because tests performed by the World Anti-Doping Agency before the HGH test was brought to market included scores of samples from football players and others with similar body types.
"There's an assumption here that they're (NFL players) somehow unique," Gary Wadler, an internist, international sports doping expert and clinical associate professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine told USA TODAY Sports last month.
"Therefore, their HGH level would be different. I don't know why they came up with that, where they came up with that. It's just an opportunity to delay. I think that delay is detrimental to the sport."
Peterson, the NFL's reigning MVP, told USA TODAY Sports that he's "sure" there are players who use HGH, though he's not sure who those players are.
"Don't really care to know," Peterson said. "But yeah, if it's a substance that people can use and it's not going to show up on tests, especially in the NFL - look at Major League Baseball. Yeah, they're going to use it.
"People are trying to get the edge. The reality of it is, people are trying to provide for their families. People are trying to keep their spot on the rosters. If it's something they can use that's not going to show up, they're going to use it."
Asked if it bothers him some question whether he uses performance-enhancing drugs, Peterson said, "It doesn't. I always say it's a compliment. Seriously. Especially with the amount of work I put in. Guys say that to me, or if I hear someone saying that - it makes me feel good.
"When you know you don't do it, and someone's saying you do, you're like, 'Wow. They think I'm on HGH? I'm doing that good? Well, hoo! Thank you Jesus!' It's a compliment. I don't get mad about it at all."
According to the union's July 12 email, Alan Rogol has been jointly hired by the NFLPA and the NFL to oversee the study and supervise two jointly retained biostatisticians, including Donald Berry, who will design the study and analyze the results, with a second biostatistician to independently review the study protocol and the analysis.
Robinson said the primary concern he has heard from players around the league is about blood testing on game day. But that was taken off the table months ago, one of the people with knowledge of the negotiations said.
Another issue, Robinson said, is how often players must make themselves available for random testing.
"I've heard some of the Olympic athletes, anytime they leave the house for more than three hours, they have to call and tell somebody," Robinson said.
"We just don't want that. I'm not in the drug program. Why do I have to call anybody? We just have to come up with a reliable way and we have great scientists, great lawyers on both sides who are actively pursuing this thing so we get it right."
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