If we’re going to get angry about steroids in football, we should probably start getting angry about every other part of sports.
There’s been a media shit-storm revolving around the question of whether or not quarterback-who-was-awesome-a-year-and-a-half-ago Peyton Manning used human growth hormone (HGH) five years ago to expedite his recovery from a broken neck. In case you don’t care about the details (and this article is about why you shouldn’t,) here’s a recap:
A week ago, Al Jazeera America interviewed a man who claims that he sent HGH to Peyton Manning via his wife, Ashley. Since then, the man has recanted his statement, but now there’s information rising that the doctor that Peyton saw at the time was dealing HGH on the side, and now there are reports out saying that the league is now run amok with athletes using HGH as an unfair advantage against the people that aren’t, and for the most part, only people who aren’t football fans seem to give a shit. It’s like if you didn’t know any better, it would seem like Manning isn’t so much a cheater as he is the best endorsement HGH had ever received, were it not for a bunch of sportscasters and journalists trying to figure out if he actually used it.
Now, odds are you fall into one of three categories. The first is that you don’t really care about football players, because you think it’s childish to investigate the daily lives of people who give each other CTE for money. That’s fair. Fuck you, but that’s fair. The second is that you don’t really care about professional athletes using HGH, and that’s also fair. Save me a seat at the sports bar.
Or, you might be in the third category- the people who are saddened and disenfranchised by the news that one of our idols might have done something unethical. “Steroids are wrong,” you might be thinking. “I watch football because I’m an American- somebody who stands by the people who want to win with honesty, integrity, and a solid moral foundation. Peyton Manning has been a class act his entire career- he’s worked hard, he’s payed his dues, and he’s never done anything sneaky to win the game of football. I hope he’s innocent.”
(For full disclosure, I’m imagining that ever single person in the third category is Wilford Brimley. Seriously, read every whiny think piece about #HGHgate in his voice and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
The third person thinks that, besides a few bad apples who are trying to lazily cut corners to stardom, a collection of honest people who come together every Sunday to play the greatest game in the world, then go home to their families, treat each other respectfully, work out a little, and then do it again the next week. Well, Mr. Brimley, let’s talk about what the NFL currently looks like.
NFL athletes spend just about all of their time practicing-they have to. To play in those games, you’re competing with tens of thousands of people who are training to replace you. It’s a race against both your own body and everyone else, because eventually, you physically will not be able to compete at the same level as others. So you have to practice, and you have to rest, eating the best food you can afford, sleeping in the best bed money can buy. Not because it’s comfortable, but because it could mean the difference between playing like a champion or playing like you’re replaceable.
And coaches might work just as hard, if not harder. I watch coaches pick strategies in real time, but constantly working on strategies is by and large the job of the coach. That takes an obscene amount of time. John Harbaugh, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, once let ESPN follow him around during the average game week. Depending on the day, he spends somewhere between 7–9 hours sleeping, eating alone, or talking to his wife or brother via telephone. The rest of the time, he’s watching game tapes of his opponents, meeting with his team and organization, and watching more tapes of his opponents. (Seriously, he usually devotes almost as much time watching game tapes as he does sleeping on his office couch.) Currently, his job is on the line, because his team is 5–10. Nobody, especially people who own and/or run the organization he works for, likes when their team loses.
And the organization itself is full of people who have incredibly different jobs- discussing player acquisitions, managing rosters and personnel, maintaining equipment- all teams have at least one on sight physician who delegates to several trainers, all of whom are in charge of maintaining the health and happiness of the players. All year, these people all dedicate countless hours of work that pay off in two hours or so every week for 17 weeks.
When you’re talking about players using HGH, it’s not like they’re doing HGH instead of all of this- it’s in addition to all of this.
It wasn’t like this before. When the NFL first began, it was a bunch of people who worked in factories getting together and playing football on the weekends, because the NFL hadn’t been invented yet, and therefore there was nothing to do on the weekends. Before too long, teams were spending their non-football time practicing to get better, and an arms race began, and now we’re here, finding technology to improve the game so we can beat the other team, and like it or not, performance enhancing substances are just one of many attempts all athletes can use to try and get the extra edge. No more, no less. Here, I can prove it.
Listen to the actual response Peyton gave after the report by Al-Jazeera:
“…I busted my butt to get Healthy. Put in a lot of hard work. I saw a lot of doctors. I went to the Guyer clinic. He had a hyperbaric chamber the Colts’ doctor thought might help. Don’t know if it helped…”
If you’re trying to figure out what the difference is between HGH and the “lot of doctors” and hyperbaric chambers and the use of an on site team physician and state of the art equipment and performance enhancing drugs, and the only difference you can think of is that the first and last ones I mentioned is illegal, then you and I are seeing things the same way.
All I’m saying is be careful with this, because like it or not, the technology people are using to excel at sports will continue to change and evolve. Start picking out one thing you don’t like and soon you’ll have to sort through every single element of player, coach, and team preparations. Then, unlike me, you’ll be too busy worrying about whether or not the fact that your team’s physician is more experienced is an unfair advantage worth complaining about to sit down, shut up, drink your beer and watch some football.