Selig eyeing HGH test in minors

Updated: February 24, 2010, 8:40 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball hopes to test minor leaguers for human growth hormone this year following the suspension of a British rugby player who admitted using the substance.

The United Kingdom Anti-Doping authority announced a two-year ban Monday for British rugby player Terry Newton, saying he was the first athlete suspended for using human growth hormone after testing positive.

A blood test has been in existence since the 2004 Athens Olympics, but baseball officials have said until now that its validity was not universally accepted by the scientific community.

Although MLB can institute blood tests for players on minor league rosters, it must reach an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association to start blood testing for unionized players on 40-man big league rosters.

"We are well aware of the important news with respect to the HGH blood test in England," Major League Baseball said in a statement Wednesday. "We are consulting with our experts concerning immediate steps for our minor league drug program and next steps for our major league drug program. The commissioner remains committed to the position that we must act aggressively to deal with the issue of HGH."

The New York Times was first to report MLB's plans.

Commissioner Bud Selig has used the minor leagues in the past to introduce new steps against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball began random urine testing for players on minor league rosters in 2001, and reached an agreement the following year to start testing unionized major leaguers.

The players' association has said it is willing to consider annual changes to its drug agreement, which runs through the 2011 season. The banned substance list is updated each year.

The NFL also has proposed again the use of blood tests to detect HGH, but the league's players' association remains against any such plan.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday that the league had made a proposal to its players in January regarding HGH. Discussions are ongoing, he said.

"Our position is that HGH testing has advanced to the point where we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program," Aiello said. "We have proposed it to the union."

The NFLPA's player development director, Stacy Robinson, said in a statement that the union "has supported research to find a suitable test that will detect sustained HGH use."

"We believe in and collectively bargained for a system that supports the testing of all banned substances," he said.

The NFL has used preseason blood tests since at least 2006 for cholesterol and tryglycerates. Baseball has had urine testing since 2003 but not blood testing.

"We have previously said that if a scientifically validated blood test for HGH is available, we would consider its utilization," new baseball players' association head Michael Weiner said. "But a single uncontested positive does not scientifically validate a test. There remains debate in the testing community about the scientific validity of this test."

Baseball began random urine testing for players on minor league rosters in 2001 and reached an agreement the following year to start testing unionized major leaguers.

"I'd prefer urine testing. It's easier, especially for people who are afraid of needles," said infielder Josh Vitters, the Chicago Cubs' top draft pick in 2007.

Outfielder Brett Jackson, Chicago's No. 1 pick last year, understands why the minor leaguers might get tested first.

"We're guinea pigs for almost everything else," he said, "so why not?"

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the union said: "The association agrees with the commissioner's office that HGH use in baseball is not to be tolerated. We intend to act without delay to ascertain whether our [drug] program can be improved as it relates to HGH."

The issue of HGH testing has gained renewed interest in the wake of Newton's positive test.

"It's the first time and very significant," WADA director general David Howman said, regarding Newton's positive test and subsequent ban. "It shows the people who say that HGH cannot be detected that it can. The sports people who said it can't be detected are fooling themselves."

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the British finding blasts a hole in that thinking, according to the New York Daily News.

"All of us who have helped develop a test wouldn't put it in place if it wasn't forensically sound and reliable," Tygart said, according to the Daily News. "Particularly in [Newton's] case, it's proof positive the test works."

U.K. Anti-Doping chief executive Andy Parkinson said it was a landmark case.

"It is the world-first analytical positive for HGH, a substance that has previously gone undetected because it leaves the system fairly quickly after administration," Parkinson said.

Parkinson said this case, like the tests for the banned blood-boosting hormone EPO, sends out a message that scientists are catching up with cheats.

"There has been a feeling that you can take growth hormone with impunity, but this shows this is no longer the case," Parkinson said. "Now there is a test, so our message to athletes is to think twice about using it."

U.K. Anti-Doping and its drug control center at King's College London worked closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency throughout the analysis process.

The 31-year-old Newton's suspension will end Nov. 23, 2011. He had recently signed a two-year deal with the Wildcats after playing for Leeds, Wigan and Bradford.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE