The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a lengthy breakdown of the current slow down on the HGH front, where two years after the lockout ended and both sides publicly discussed implementing HGH testing, nothing has been done. It includes numerous quotes from former and current players about the issue. One such player, anonymously identified as a NFC starter, estimated that 10-15 starters for each team are using HGH. “Not tested and it’s easy to get. Nowadays, dude? In 2013? (Expletive) yeah. I’m just being real.”
That estimate, if true, would put at least half the league’s starters in that category. Of course, there is no rigid evidence there, just opinion. I suspect if you asked a fan, though, the assumption is that it is fairly prevalent. The league and NFLPA, though, aren’t being driven by public pressure, like baseball was, to implement testing at a far faster rate. The idealist might say the NFLPA is holding out to get better testing for fairness; the skeptic might say that if a significant portion of membership is using HGH, the delays benefit the paying members. The NFL, meanwhile, may also be incentivized to avoid widespread suspensions, as Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel points out.
Why the difference in public pressure? I know many will cite to baseball’s history and the numbers. I don’t really buy that. This is not to say that those aren’t reasons that are offered; I just happen to think a lot of it is pretextual. In football, we’ve recently had big events for breaking touchdown records and passing records, and a chase for a rushing record that was nationally celebrated. In football, we’ve also learned to accept it as a body-destroying sport in many ways, that go beyond the HGH issue.
Did you catch the article from a couple of months ago on Jason Taylor and what he did to play through pain? A catheter was running directly to his heart during a game. That’s performance-allowing, and also not the safest thing in the world. Toradol, a pain killer, is a prominent and likely far more dangerous issue when it comes to the performance enhancing/performance allowing arena. The brain injury litigation shows that it is more than just about what someone injects when it comes to football.
We also have a gray area when it comes to football, and when pushed by the position specificity that encourages increased improvement in specific skill sets. We have seen medical advancements that have helped players get healthier quicker. Anti-inflammatories and other drugs allow recovery faster. The league will need to cope with the distinction between something simply being a performance-enhancer (thus allowing someone to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and potentially cause even more damage in the specialization era), and something being therapeutic and allowing players to recover from injuries. In that respect, football is not burdened by the stigma of baseball, where writers and former players conveniently forget the past themselves. We stand in the way of progress when we draw inconsistent lines in being able to keep and get athletes healthy, but we also have a slippery slope to running a race that leads us to bigger, stronger, faster, and deadlier when it comes to football.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]