For several years, the professional sports world has been torn asunder by accusations and affirmations of the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball has been the epicenter of discussion in the United States, with new revelations occurring seemingly every week, but Lance Armstrong and last week's Ray Lewis kerfuffle have brought their own major stories, as well.
For the most part, the NBA has not been involved in the biggest scandals involving PEDs. There have been some comparatively minor stories, including the suspension of Rashard Lewis for 10 games following a positive test in 2009, but nothing that would suggest a widespread problem (or, perhaps more accurately, concern that there's a widespread problem).
Nevertheless, the NBA wants to address any issues that may exist. According to commissioner David Stern, the league hopes to start testing for human growth hormone next season. From a radio interview with WCCO in Minneapolis (as transcribed by Ben Golliver at The Point Forward):
“We watch what’s going on in baseball, we watch the negotiations that are going in with football, and it is my expectation that by next season [we] will be doing blood testing for HGH,” Stern told WCCO radio in Minnesota. “Our players have been terrific. They lead this in some ways, saying, ‘ We do not want to have anything less than the best.’ That’s been the way it’s been since 1983.”
The NBA has been exploring the issue for some time. In Dec. 2011, after the conclusion of the lockout, NBA.com reported that HGH testing would be phased in once a reliable testing procedure could be determined. [...]
“If I say I don’t have a concern, everyone says I’m a Pollyanna,” Stern said. “I don’t have any reason to know one way or another. My guess is and my hope is that it’s not widely used in the NBA.”
This news comes in the wake of similar announcements by Major League Baseball and the NFL that they would institute blood tests for HGH in time for their next seasons. It's been commonly believed for years that HGH has been a popular PED for many players in those sports, but the lack of blood testing could not prove such an issue. Again, the NBA has not had to deal with that same sort of speculation.
Effectively, that means that Stern wants to bring in HGH testing as a sort of preventative measure, or maybe even an attempt to find out if there's a previously unidentified problem. It's similar to the approach the NBA took towards concussions two years ago when it developed a specific policy to ensure that players didn't return to the court before it was medically advisable. At the time, the NFL faced questions about safety that have persisted until now (and figure to for quite some time). The NBA didn't appear to have a major concussion problem, but the league wanted to ensure that its players would be kept safe. While some coaches and players haven't been big fans of the policy, it's been a success.
The HGH issue is different, however, because it's unclear exactly what testing is meant to protect. The concussion policy was very clearly meant to protect the health of players — if anything, it keeps players on the sidelines when fans really want to see them play. But the reasons for HGH testing are less clear. Obviously, the drug carries serious health risks, and that's one of the reasons it's banned in the first place. But testing for it, particularly at a time when the only two American leagues more popular than the NBA also plan to do so, can come across as an effort to strengthen the league's image.
That doesn't mean that testing is a bad idea — it's almost certainly a good thing. But the various reasons for these changes will affect the degree to which the players' union fights (or just negotiates to lessen) any testing procedures. If the union feels the league is trying to take advantage of players, or bring about a policy without consulting the players, then testing might not come about quite so smoothly as it appears it should be.
This announcement is just the beginning of the process. As with any decision involving the NBA's rules and regulations, there will be more to come.
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