In a recent interview in ESPN's The Magazine, an unnamed NFL player dubbed "Player X"--apparently an accomplished NFL athlete--lays claim to the idea that 40 percent of NFL athletes are using HGH to enhance their performance. As a statistic, this does seem a likely possibility, especially with the physical nature of football and with what HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs (PED's) can do for athletes. I really don't believe too many would argue with this, right?
And Player X's take is that such use is cheating.
However, Pat Hruby's ESPN Commentary article, Steroids hysteria might inhibit progress, moves us in a slightly different direction. Mr. Hruby takes great care in making the point that "we" really don't know all the ins and outs (side effects) of long-term use of HGH and other (PED's), and because of this, we really shouldn't pass such harsh judgment on the use of them by athletes.
He continues his eloquent rant by citing renowned steroid and PED expert, Dr. Yesalis, in several places, using key facts to bolster the credibility of his inferences. Here--take a look at a couple:
"Can you hurt yourself with [these drugs]?" says Dr. Charles Yesalis, an emeritus professor at Penn S[t]ate and expert on performance-enhancing drugs in sports. "Yes. But you can hurt yourself with aspirin, with any drug. There is no such thing as a perfectly safe drug.
We've been using [steroids] safely in medicine for 80 years. In the global sense, they've never been demonstrated to be a major killer like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, tobacco. For something that's been used for so long by so many people, where are all the body bags?"
And later, when Dr. Yesalis states that he is unaware of any epidemiological study of the long-term effects of steroids, and that he (Dr. Yesalis) submitted a proposal to take on such a task, was denied, and gave up on the idea, Hruby says:
What happens when we give up? We panic. We trade reason for emotion, robust facts for hollow moralizing, realistic risk assessment for unchecked fear and unwitting ignorance. We no longer know what we don't know -- a deluded state of mind that can be more dangerous than any PED side effect.
Really, Pat!!! So the statement you make earlier in your article, that experts agree that they're harmful to adolescents, isn't enough? This fact alone should make us vehemently discourage allowing adult athletes to become test tubes in the search for real hard evidence. We all know that kids and young athletes can always be depended upon to use common-sense forethought regarding the choices they make, because they know that what might be "OK" for adults is not necessarily "OK" for them, right??? (sarcasm intended).
That alone is enough for me; however, there is something else. Another important reason we should continue to severely penalize those who use and do everything we can to keep HGH and PED's out of the sports arena is that they completely change the playing field for everyone. At the current increasing rate of PED use, there is a great likelihood that eventually all will be forced to use in order to compete at the professional level. Elite competitive sports will become a battle between who has the best chemist or chemists, not who is the best athlete or team.
It is my own opinion, and, for example, that of my colleague, Vince Garramone, a health educator, strength and conditioning coach at Downers Grove South High School, and subscriber to the principles advocated by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA), that these strong chemicals change who you are as an athlete. They give an athlete the ability to do things, to perform, in ways that would be impossible without them. As I said in my piece, John Benkus Reported As Having Compassion For Professional Athletes Who Take Steroids, What???:
If an athlete uses steroids I personally do not see how they could ever be considered "the best..."
This is due to the fact that it was not them who accomplished anything; they are not their true self as they travel that steroid path. It is the steroids that helped to change them into something that they are not, something that they never were.
Basically, it changes your natural genetic potential, or rather, you are unnaturally extending your genetic potential. You are not you anymore.
It is a false evolution so to speak, an improvement of athletic ability that is artificial, not real, and at the complete opposite side of the spectrum from which ethical standards and behavior are born.
So you see, there is a lot more to this issue than just that we are not exactly sure what all the long-term side effects of the use of these chemicals are. But that fact alone begs us to stay on a more ethical path than the one many are currently choosing, and the one that you seem to imply in your piece might be acceptable.
Our kids and young athletes will thank us someday.
Hey, don't take my word for it, just check with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) yourself, the group I briefly mentioned above whose principles my colleague subscribes to.
Of what significance are they, you ask?
Oh, just the organization considered to be the "worldwide authority on strength and conditioning," a group that supports and disseminates "research-based knowledge and its practical application to improve athletic performance and fitness."
What's there take?
Here is an excerpt from their POSITION STAND ON ANDROGEN AND HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE USE:
"The NSCA rejects the use of androgens and hGH or any performance-enhancing drugs on the basis of ethics, the ideals of fair play in competition, and concerns for the athlete's health. The NSCA has based this position stand on a critical analysis of the scientific literature evaluating the effects of androgens and human growth hormone on human physiology and performance."
And one more thing, I do agree with Dr. Yesalis' statement that "there is no such thing as a perfectly safe drug" and that "you can hurt yourself with aspirin, with any drug." Rather than being a justification for continued use, his statement should be a caution to all to resort to drug use only when absolutely necessary, for medical reasons, and when no safer alternatives are available.
It is not the drugs themselves that are bad or good, but the "how" and "why" they are used. And, at least for me, it is this how and why of use by athletes with which I most vehemently disagree.