A reexamination of performance enhancing drugs in sports, and Peyton Manning’s neck

Jason Whitlock, a writer for Fox Sports, formerly of the Kansas City Star, even more formerly a footballer for Ball State, and sometimes guest host of Jim Rome’s radio show, asked in his NFL column this week, “If human growth hormone or some other performance-enhancing drug would help Peyton Manning’s nerves regenerate and heal his neck, would you be against the NFL’s top player using it/them?”

Whitlock explained:

I’m just talking hypothetically. I don’t have any reason to believe HGH or any other steroid would help Manning’s recovery. But who knows, maybe they would? If so, would you be outraged if he used them to save his career, save his season?

I bring this up to illustrate the lack of sophistication in the debate about performance-enhancing drugs and professional athletics. The debate lacks nuance and maturity right now.

We’ve acted like there is no gray area when it comes to PEDs. We’ve acted like the only kind of athlete who would stoop so low as to use them is a man or woman with no integrity. It’s just not true.

The culture of sports pretty much dictates that athletes use PEDs. There’s too much money in the games for PEDs not to be embraced.

Colts owner Jim Irsay just gave Manning a $90 million contract. You think Irsay wouldn’t look the other way if PEDs would help Manning? How about Jim Caldwell? He’s going to lose his job without Manning. The city of Indianapolis just paid for a sweet, new domed stadium that will be difficult to fill on NFL Sundays without Manning.

Suppose you’re not an NFL superstar with the means to travel overseas for a new form of stem-cell surgery and you have the same injury as Manning. Would a journeyman NFL player be wrong for trying PEDs in desperation to avoid a third surgery?

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do believe the demonization of PEDs should stop. We need to understand them and try to figure out the best way to use them safely and responsibly.

I usually like Whitlock, because he’s generally thoughtful and isn’t afraid to openly examine the assumptions underlying controversial topics, even if he sometimes veers into shock-raking. I sometimes don’t like him, though, but picking against the Lions (as he did later in the same column) will do that for me.

The Colts bandwagon may have emptied faster than any other in recent memory. I’ve written here that I think the Colts could lose every game this season. Peyton Manning is not to the NFL what Tiger Woods is (or was?) to the PGA, but with Michael Vick’s status uncertain (and even without that), he’s pretty close. And as Whitlock, Mark Titus, and a lot of other people have pointed out, Manning is really important to a lot of people around the league. Every day, it seems like I hear more voices in the sports media saying they think Manning’s football career is over, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg being the latest example.

I’d like to put Whitlock’s question to you. Vote in the poll below, and explain your vote in the comments.

4 thoughts on “A reexamination of performance enhancing drugs in sports, and Peyton Manning’s neck

  1. Athletes are fully aware of their bodies and what they sacrifice to compete. I think the NFL should monitor the use of PED’s, but not band them. Approval is a slippery slope; however, it can not be avoided. The acceptance of cortizone and other pain relievers has clearly shown that spectators and athletes recognizes the necessity. When I’m injured I take what’s necessary to help me get better fast and back on feet so I can resume my duties as son, father, dad, husband, grandparent, employer, etc. Shouldn’t these individuals be afforded the same opportunity? I think so.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. I agree that it’s difficult to draw the line between improper PEDs and things like pain relievers, nutritional supplements (incl. vitamins), and even thirst quenchers. Our ideal of the pure athlete doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. Even water is a performance enhancer.

      There’s also a relativity aspect. Eating well enhances performance, but people might do that anyway. Should athletes have to avoid food of a certain health level? Of course not, but the conceptual analysis gets tricky very quickly. What about exercise and weightlifting, or the expensive trainers athletes can afford?

      The un/natural line seems unhelpful too. Does that mean only a certified organic diet?

      I agree that monitoring of some kind is necessary, but I think we need to take Whitlock’s invitation to have a renewed and open discussion about this.

  2. Pingback: Kobe Bryant and PEDs | ALDLAND

  3. Pingback: Counterpoint: Marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug | ALDLAND

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