Why nobody cares if NFL quarterback is a cheat

By Kris Shannon

Peyton Manning is the NFL’s most famous face. He may also be a ‘drugs cheat’. But it’s not that important.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (right) and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton know it's vital to recover quickly from injuries. Photo / AP
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (right) and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton know it's vital to recover quickly from injuries. Photo / AP

The allegations against Peyton Manning have already been aired far and wide across the sporting world. What has been significantly harder to find is the collective moral panic that typically follows such scandals.

And there's a simple reason for that - it doesn't exist.

While previous doping cases involving high-profile athletes have been swiftly followed by sanctimony from fans and media - questioning whether sportsmen are good role models for children (they're not) or if sports stained by drug cheats are worth watching (they are) - Manning being linked with the purchase of human growth hormone has seemingly sparked no such faux outrage.

While a certain amount of that silence can be ascribed to a public growing weary of athletes being caught cheating, another much more interesting explanation accounts for the lack of reaction.

In the United States, at least, there has in recent years been a growing realisation that perhaps all the paranoia surrounding performance-enhancing drugs is unfounded. That perhaps there are more important sporting issues that demand greater attention than the possibility of Manning using a banned substance to recover from what could have been career-ending neck surgery.

Some of those issues also involve drugs, almost all concern player welfare, and in combination they put in perspective the so-called "scourge" of HGH, the use of which only the naive wouldn't suspect is already widespread in American sport.

What athletes are asked to accomplish for our entertainment is unfathomable, really. That's true in all sport but especially so in the United States where the schedule is relentless and the physical toll taken is severe.

The requirement of an American football player, for example, to punish his body, deal with the pain and shrug off injuries is an extreme ask: there's a reason so many pop prescription (and legal) pain-killers like candy. Which, as reflected among wider culture in the United States, where deaths due to pharmaceutical drugs have tripled in the past 20 years, is something that should be firmly discouraged among athletes.

But with such a large player pool, those athletes are all too aware how easily they can lose their jobs and, despite often exorbitant salaries, many are living pay cheque to pay cheque. So when the pain-killers prove insufficient and serious injury does strike, can they be blamed for turning to HGH to find full fitness as fast as possible?

Because, to be clear, that's why that drug is being abused, as opposed to any potential performance-enhancing qualities. The effect of HGH on athletic ability remains unclear and, while not without its side-effects, none of the negatives is nearly enough to outweigh the positives in athletes' minds.

Its continued consumption in America's top leagues is also attributable to the lax standard of testing. While the NFL in 2014 finally began blood-testing for the substance, experts have denounced the standard of the protocols used.

"You pretty much have to be a fool to test positive," said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency. "[Positive tests are] just highly unlikely, because [athletes] know it's coming and probably stop well in advance to have it clear from their system."

That predictability is what renders HGH so readily used in the NBA, where basketballers are tested for performance-enhancing drugs up to four times a season. After that fourth test, it's a veritable free-for-all.

So fans can be forgiven for greeting the Manning news with a sigh. Whether the great quarterback did use HGH is almost irrelevant when poor money-management and injuries and concussions can leave players broke or crippled or dead.

- NZ Herald

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