Friday, August 26, 2011

WADA Stonewalls NFL Players on Suspect HGH Test

By Matt Chaney
for The Phanatic Magazine 

This story of skullduggery follows the classic theme of what looks like, walks like, talks like, often isn’t.

It features contemporary names and concepts in NFL news, of purported wisdom, science and integrity, and illusion, smoke and mirrors, when black is actually white, or the seeming good guys bad, and so forth.

This is about NFL management and players, which party is really to blame for the serious dispute over beleaguered, so-called Olympic testing for recombinant human growth hormone—a growing fight preventing full ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement celebrated as ending the lockout and restoring America’s beloved football season.

Long-short, the problem party of HGH testing is not the players and union, per the imagination of dumb sportswriters and politicians.

In reality the players are getting railroaded over HGH blood testing, or were, and they refuse to play along, as PA officials have clarified for months in private communication with the league, according to current union memos obtained by Chaney’s Blog.

Shady dealing begins with the quasi-governmental entities World Anti-Doping Agency and American arm USADA, which are funded by government and sport organs. WADA-USADA bureaucrats incessantly promote their closed “science” for dubious synthetic GH detection that’s ripped mercilessly by independent experts worldwide.

“WADA refused to provide scientific information justifying the reliability of their HGH test (validation studies, population studies, performance testing between labs, etc.),” states an union email circulated among members Wednesday afternoon, following a meeting of NFLPA representatives with anti-doping and league officials at WADA headquarters in Montreal.

“We leave here with more questions than answers,” the union memo continues. “The quality of player care is non-negotiable and we will continue to press for all the relevant data. We want to ensure that any testing meets the highest standards and has scientific consensus.”

Obfuscation is also game plan for NFL management, especially commissioner Roger Goodell and his frontman on the issue, attorney Adolpho Birch, senior vice president of law and labor policy. Goodell and Birch utter nonsense on HGH testing, for more than a year running, only to go unchallenged by sport reporters who parrot the misinformation.

League officials blatantly misled the union before Wednesday’s confab in Canada, promising to finally produce documentation on the controversial GH “isoform” test, validation studies withheld by WADA at least seven years, including from NFLPA experts who’ve filed specific requests since April.

Obviously the league promise proved phony in Montreal, where no missing data were forthcoming Wednesday, and longtime observers of WADA and its in-house isoform immunoassay would only expect as much.

Critics like preeminent testing engineer Dr. Don Catlin in Los Angeles, a former tester for Olympic and pro sports who operates the non-profit Anti-Doping Research laboratory.

Catlin has waited for scientific information on the GH-isoform test since before WADA deployment at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. “You want to see the data,” Catlin told me in 2007. “A scientist says, ‘Fine, show me the data, show me the paper that’s been [peer] reviewed and published.’ ”

“You’ve got to have hard-core evidence…,” Catlin continued: “ ‘Here’s the study. Here’s what we did. Here’s what we found. Here’s the [rate of] false-positive. Here’s the false-negative.’ ”

“I never pay any attention to what they say [WADA officials],” Catlin dismissed. “I only pay attention to what’s published. And if there’s something published in peer-review literature on the [HGH] test, I’ll know all about it.”

What of the mysterious WADA studies, I wondered then, that supposedly establish test validity and reliability?

“Well, they’re always being conducted,” Catlin said. “I hear of them. But with so much I’ve heard over the years, I just go way back and believe only what I can touch and feel myself.”

“It’s in the interest of a sport organization to say they have a test, because they don’t look very good when they don’t have a test. I have a letter from WADA, two years old [circa 2004], saying a test for growth hormone will be released shortly,” Catlin noted. “You lose credibility when you speak before you’re sure.”

Epidemiologist Charles E. Yesalis of Penn State, an ScD and foremost expert on sport doping, discussed WADA defiance of scientific protocol for implementing faulty approaches in punitive anti-doping, with only athletes punished for the scattered positive results, among countless false-negatives.

“I’m just astounded,” Yesalis, avowedly conservative, told me in February 2010 as NFL and MLB officials started chirping favorably about WADA blood testing for growth hormone.

“I mean, if you’re going to ruin somebody’s life, and if you don’t have [vetted methodology] totally locked up, to me that is immoral and unethical,” Yesalis said. “I’d rather see five million cheaters compete than see scientists bastardizing themselves.”

I interviewed Catlin again about the isoform, with no essential change in play since we spoke three years previous—nothing substantially improved about testing method and instrument since their patenting by WADA prior to Athens.

And despite the first reported positive result on Feb. 22, 2010, for British rugby player Terry Newton, 31, who admitted HGH use uncontested and accepted a two-year suspension under WADA guidelines.

An informant had fingered Newton for no-notice testing, the typical way for detection through the isoform’s laughable window of but a few hours to perhaps a day.

“Well, if you know the guy’s going to shoot up this morning, and you arrive at noon, OK,” Catlin remarked, caustically. “Glad it works that way.”

“They can’t do much about the detection window,” Catlin said of the isoform’s great insurmountable limitation, if not debunking factor. “That’s the nature of the test.”

Scientific literature still lacked credible review on the WADA isoform, then six years in use with some 1,500 negative results until Newton, and Catlin wasn’t surprised.

Who would want to vouch for this lousy, unvalidated application? No credible scientist or other authority, anywhere on the planet.

“It is simply not a useful test, no matter how you cut it or spin it,” Catlin said.

*       *       *       *       *       *

For almost five months, the NFL Players Association has asked WADA and the league to provide simple validating information for the GH-isoform assay, a blood test used on athletes for punitive anti-doping since 2004, according to recent union documents obtained by this blog and an Aug. 9 letter to WADA quoted by Juliet Macur of The New York Times..

Union officials, in the final week leading to Wednesday’s face-to-face with WADA and the NFL, beseeched anti-dopers and league brass to come clean, produce any substantial research data on the isoform.

Apparently, the question arises whether WADA even has a formal article on its closet research. An Aug. 19 union letter to Birch at the NFL states: “we understand… that no technical document exists on the isoform test. If our understanding is incorrect, and a technical document exists either in final or draft form, we renew our request for those documents.”

That letter to Birch last Friday, written by NFLPA associate general counsel Heather M. McPhee, channels mounting union frustration with WADA and NFL management—and players’ skepticism and mistrust for alleged HGH testing.

McPhee informed Birch the union had “concerns” about management conduct and WADA cooperation. Birch’s agenda for the Montreal meeting did not provide for ample discussion of the scientific controversy, McPhee emphasized, particularly since union experts supposedly were to receive and review critical documents on spot.

McPhee noted recent materials the PA received from both the NFL and WADA were essentially useless, largely irrelevant to questions at hand, perhaps even “mistakenly included.”

“We emphasize that the vast majority of these items consist of papers or abstracts that involve a different [rHGH] test—the marker test—and not the isoform test the NFL is currently proposing.”

McPhee noted the August materials received “again [do not] include the [agency] validation studies, reference and population studies, and validation studies conducted by each WADA [accredited] laboratory that uses the isoform test.”

In closing, McPhee reiterated dire need for union experts to review literature prior to the discussion time Birch scheduled for the impending meeting, an hour in Montreal, absurdly short. “For this reason, again, we continue to strongly encourage you to provide the information,” McPhee implored of Birch in New York.

Birch apparently didn’t reply to McPhee in Washington for four days, until Tuesday, on eve of everyone’s gathering in Montreal—and of course without the necessary documents on WADA testing..

McPhee fired right back to Birch by email Tuesday, tactfully scolding on several points, including the reality that issue discussions would only have to continue.

“It is apparent that we will not receive the information that we requested from both WADA and the NFL prior to the meeting tomorrow,” McPhee wrote. “In light of that circumstance, it is impossible for the substantive issues regarding this matter to be resolved tomorrow, and we need to plan for additional meetings in the near future.”

In addition, McPhee corrected Birch for his public misstatements regarding what the union and players have agreed upon thus far: “your statement that the NFLPA made two testing proposals, most recently three weeks ago, is not accurate.”

“In early August, [the] NFLPA engaged in negotiations in response to the League’s proposal,” McPhee wrote, “but as you know, the NFLPA clearly stated that any agreement regarding HGH testing is contingent on the NFLPA’s satisfaction with rigorous independent analysis and assessment of the test that the NFL has proposed for use on players.”

By Wednesday north of the border, NFLPA representatives had literally chased WADA yaks and NFL sidekicks to Montreal, but for no avail. Once again, an earnest party hit wall in quest for WADA disclosure on its notorious HGH testing.

“WADA won’t show the numbers,” Catlin had already surmised, a year ago. “They recognize, rightfully, that as soon as they do show the numbers, there could be difficulty.”

*       *      *       *       *       *       *

The epitome of fluffy NFL rhetoric on blood testing, mostly inaccurate, has been statements by Adolpho Birch, league attorney assigned to the issue.

In dialogues with reporters, Birch portrays suspect HGH detection as “solution” for protecting NFL players and even impressionable youths, ensuring “clean competition and a level playing field.” He claims the league welcomes input from “all expertise,” but, he adds “the program we have designed will be effective and will meet any sort of scrutiny that will be put on it.”

Birch claims HGH testing “has been used by the top labs for years now and has withstood legal challenge upon appeal.”

Regarding ever-present expert rebuke and adverse evidence of GH-isoform test efficacy, Birch says: “From our perspective, there are no significant detractions to its effectiveness or reliability.”

“We believe, like every other test we have ever used, we will be able to improve that [detection] time. All tests evolve as the science and the technology evolves. We expect [the isoform] to be the same way. It is a far different thing than unreliability, which would be something that would promote a false-positive [result], something you absolutely cannot have in the context of drug testing.”

“There has been zero indication from anyone since sort of the dawn of this test that false-positives are an issue,” Birch says, wholly false.

In fact, many indie experts—including Catlin, Yesalis, University of Texas biostatistician Donald A. Berry, and former BALCO doping guru Victor Conte—argue that false-positives have yet to be ruled out, given insufficient information made public to date.

Anti-doping agencies even acknowledge the fact, with an NFLPA letter, quoted by The Times, inquiring about “WADA’s acceptance of a 1 in 10,000 false-positive rate” for the GH-isoform.

Meanwhile, contrary to Birch’s version, the WADA test has not faced challenge in a courtroom of law, democratic or otherwise, nowhere yet.

The appeal process that Estonia skier Andrus Veerpalu presently follows, as one of 5 known positive-result cases among some 4,000 HGH assays since the Athens Games, is confined to the kangaroo arbitration cells of elite amateur sport. Veerpalu, age 40, is the only athlete reported to formally contest the WADA test so far.

Newton, the unfortunate first known to test positive, committed suicide last year within months of the announced result, and Berry took exception from afar, hearing the news in America.

In 2008, Berry, the data expert, shredded anti-doping as generally bad science in a widely read review he authored for Nature journal. “If conventional doping testing were to be submitted to a regulatory agency such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to qualify as a diagnostic for a disease, it would be rejected,” Berry told science writer Brian Alexander, reporting for

Last year I notified Berry of Newton’s death, and the normally reserved scientist blasted circumstances of modern athletes, those clean or “cheating,” for entrapment perpetuated and driven by questionable or invalid anti-doping that somehow skirts law, ethics, fairness—wherever, whenever deemed necessary by an official few so powerful, of sport, media and government.

“Terry Newton’s plight should be a wake-up call to all,” Berry wrote to me and others, by email. “As a society we cannot take this issue lightly. What many regard to be a small penalty can be a death sentence.”

“Are we trying to save sport? High-level sport? At what cost? Is it worth it? Quite obviously we’re ruining people’s lives. Perhaps we should be exacting such extreme penalties to save sport so we can be entertained by athletes on what we like to think is a level playing field. But a few people should not be making this decision for the rest of us. And the entire process of labeling people with the stain of cheater should be defensible and not cloistered.”

“Are we trying to save the bodies of young people?” Berry continued. “If so, is the tack we’ve taken even remotely reasonable? And is the trade-off of bodies saved and lives ruined appropriate, even if our tack is eventually successful?”

“I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but they must be debated much more broadly than presently, with the pros and cons of the various approaches clearly delineated and widely publicized.”

“And, oh yes, we must get the science right,” Berry affirmed in conclusion, “and we must appropriately and adequately fund research in this area so we have a chance of getting it right.”

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant worker living in Missouri, USA. Email him at . For more information, including about his 2009 book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at . 

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