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Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly two full seasons since signing a labor deal that paved the way for HGH testing in the NFL, the league and the players' union still haven't agreed to implement anything.

The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to jointly pick a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

So now Congress steps in. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for human growth hormone, a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived - such as increasing speed or improving vision.

``The players are claiming that the testing is questionable. What's bothering me about all of this is that the players made an agreement in 2011 ... that they would begin the human growth hormone testing, and it seems to me that they have thrown roadblocks and found excuses not to do it. And that concerns me. An agreement is an agreement,'' said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking committee Democrat, who noted that he expects there will be additional hearings.

``We also want to make sure that the players are treated fairly,'' Cummings said in a telephone interview. ``We want to hear the science, so we can make some valid judgments as to the players' allegations that this may not be valid.''

A memo sent by committee staff members last week to lawmakers says: ``Every week of football played without a test for HGH endangers the game and sends a message to young athletes that HGH is tolerated at the game's highest level.''

The memo closes by saying: ``This hearing will examine the science behind current HGH testing and highlight the fact that this testing is available to use in the NFL.''

In a statement issued Tuesday previewing the hearing, committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, sent something of a warning to the NFL and players.

``There has been a frustrating lack of progress on testing. The possibility that federal legislation could eventually be adopted to address this problem may be unlikely at this point, but the league and its players would be unwise to ignore it,'' Issa said.

The committee did not ask anyone from the league or union to testify Wednesday. Scheduled witnesses include Pro Football Hall of Fame member Dick Butkus, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers, and National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

In written testimony submitted to the committee, Bowers says ``there is a broad consensus among scientific experts who regularly work in the growth hormone field'' that the test is reliable and valid, and that ``the chances of an athlete who has not used synthetic growth hormone testing positive are comparable to the chance of that same athlete being struck by lightning during his or her lifetime.''

Bowers writes that World Anti-Doping Agency records show that as of late August, 12 positive results showed up from 12,764 HGH tests around the world.

``I would like to point out that the only people who are still questioning the methodology and validity of the ... test are lawyers, not scientists,'' his testimony reads.

Tabak's written testimony says many studies vouch for the reliability of HGH testing, even though the naturally occurring hormone and the artificial form are ``virtually indistinguishable.'' He adds: ``Questions can always be raised about whether a given test, even one whose reliability has been established under most circumstances, also has universal validity. ... In science, universal validity is almost never achievable. ...''

He also discusses the ``serious risks'' athletes who give themselves HGH are taking, and estimates some use doses 10 times higher than for medical purposes.

Even once scientific issues are resolved, there will be other matters the league and union need to figure out, including who administers the test and what the appeals process will be. The latter could be of particular import in the aftermath of the decision in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case Tuesday, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions of four players were tossed aside by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The collective bargaining agreement that ended the NFL lockout in August 2011 included a provision for HGH testing as soon as last season - but only once the NFLPA approved the process.

``The players agreed to HGH testing in the CBA because they believe in a clean game. They did not, however, agree to an artificial timeline to impose a testing protocol that has no transparency in the underlying science nor a fair due process that is outlined,'' union spokesman George Atallah said.

NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees the league's drug program, said the sport has been ``trying to do whatever needed to be done to advance the ball'' on HGH testing.

``I am hopeful because, among other things, the hearing presumably will put to rest the questions of whether the test is safe, practical, reliable and appropriate for NFL players,'' Birch said. ``If that occurs, it may present an opportunity for the parties to resume serious discussions on how to implement it, rather than being sort of lost in the trenches discussing the questions about its reliability.''

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Connect with Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler