Last week two major league baseball players filed defamation lawsuits against Al Jazeera America for a documentary linking them to performance-enhancing drugs — the same report that claimed quarterback Peyton Manning's wife received shipments of human growth hormone, or HGH.
Manning seems to have put the report behind him, both because of his vehement denials and because the source, a former pharmacy intern at an Indianapolis clinic, has recanted. And whether Manning chooses to sue is his business. A spokesman said he'll make the decision after the season.
If Manning chooses not to sue, by the way, no one should attempt to read anything into the decision. Defamation suits are expensive and difficult to win, and can easily drag on for years. Who needs that grief?
But whatever the ultimate verdict on Al Jazeera's report, the controversy over HGH is not about to disappear.
To begin with, credible critics, including former players such as Brady Quinn and Christian Fauria, contend the NFL is saturated with HGH, thanks to ineffective testing. In addition, a growing number of voices are arguing that if the substance actually helps athletes recover from serious injuries — such as Manning certainly suffered before he came to the Broncos — then players should be allowed to use it on a limited basis for healing. And the logic is compelling.
To be clear, this is not the same as advocating that performance-enhancing drugs be legal in sports but regulated. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell makes that case, but it's not persuasive. Not only would the drugs distort the game, but to the extent they produce players who are bigger and faster, they might increase the injury rate. Former quarterback Quinn believes that already is happening.
Moreover, drugs have side effects — which in HGH's case, according to USA Today, include "possible cancer, abnormal organ growth, accelerated osteoarthritis and earlier death."
Yet what about limited use by players injured and out of action? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of those who argues for it, and Cuban is putting his money where his mouth is. His foundation is funding a two-year, first-of-its-kind clinical trial at the University of Michigan to see whether HGH "helps prevent the muscles around the knee joint from weakening to a point of no return" after an ACL injury, according to ESPN.
It's important research, and there ought to be more of it in order to clarify just how useful HGH might be in terms of recovery — or if its effects are more myth than reality.
If research shows that temporary use of HGH can accelerate athletes' return to their former strength and quickness — or, more critically, prevent them from suffering permanent erosion of their talents — then the burden will be on opponents to explain why it shouldn't be allowed.
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