OAKLAND, Calif. -- NFL players who used the steroid THG before the league began testing for it will avoid possible suspensions until next season.
However, players who now test positive for the previously undetectable drug will face immediate discipline, including four-game suspensions, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Thursday in a memo to NFL clubs.
No players have tested positive for THG since random testing began Oct. 6, the league and union said. About 1,000 samples have been tested.
Players who tested positive for THG in samples collected before Oct. 6 still could be fined this season, league spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Tagliabue wrote that there was "uncertainty whether suspensions based upon pre-October 6 tests could be imposed during the 2003 season with the requisite competitive fairness for all 32 teams."
Last Sunday, CBS reported that four members of the Oakland Raiders -- center Barret Robbins, linebacker Bill Romanowski and defensive linemen Dana Stubblefield and Chris Cooper -- had tested positive for THG. The NFL hasn't commented specifically on the Raiders, and the report didn't indicate when the samples were taken.
"Everything that has transpired with these rumored reports is purely and strictly speculation," Raiders coach Bill Callahan said. "It just appears to me that whatever has occurred has been strictly confidential and remains confidential."
The league and the union still are negotiating over how to punish players for a positive test from a sample obtained before Oct. 6.
Usually, the penalty for a positive test is a four-game suspension, and just six weeks remain in the regular season. The league rarely issues a suspension stretching across two seasons.
In addition, more tests must be conducted after a positive test to ensure accuracy. Most importantly, any player testing positive could appeal a suspension -- a process that could take several more weeks.
"This is not about winning," said Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director. "This is strictly about the process."
Such suspensions would mark the first time THG has been linked directly to any sport outside track and field, which already has had at least five athletes test positive for the steroid.