HGH and the NFL: Do You Want to Know?
I vividly remember when I heard this saying for the first time. I was at my grandparents' house as a very young boy, and the neighbor's dog had wandered over into their yard. As my grandpa chatted with the neighbor, I pet the dog and, like most young boys do, eventually decided that attempting to yank on the dog's tail was a good idea.
Fortunately, my grandpa saw what was going on and put a stop to the attempted yanking. Friendly though the dog may have been, he explained that pulling a dog's tail is the quickest way to turn a good dog into a bad one. "Jon," he said. "Don't grab a hold of something you can't let go of."
The point, I think, is obvious. You may think pulling on something's tail is fun, but it might think biting your arm is more fun, and it might not be too anxious to let go.
I say this because the NFL and the NFL Player's Association seem to be on the verge of working out a deal to test NFL players for Human Growth Hormone. HGH testing was a big part of the last labor deal the two sides agreed to, but it hasn't seriously been considered for about two years. That appears to be changing.
The study is meant to determine what constitute's a normal level of HGH in a player's body, which will in turn determine what level of HGH will result in a suspension when the NFL gets to full HGH testing down the road. For right now, about 40 players a week will be tested, broken down into groups of five players from eight teams. Over the course of a month, the league will learn what percentage of the test group is over the baseline threshold.
I'm fully in favor of the NFL's move toward HGH testing, but I'm wondering if this is a good idea for the league right now. With Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper filling the headlines these days, it's no secret that the National Football League's approval rating isn't exactly off the charts. Throw in the league's ongoing concussion problems, and the list of the NFL's troubles is starting to get pretty long. Is a new drug testing regimen and the the scandal that it could bring really a good idea?
Hypothetically, let's say a large number of players show highly elevated levels of HGH during this baseline testing phase. At that point, it seems to me like Joe Sportsfan just throws "drug users and cheaters" on the list of things he thinks NFL players are, right up there with "murderers" and "really obnoxious racists."
That seems like a real possibility, because HGH use seems to be one of the worst kept secrets in the NFL right now, and the evidence is right out there on the field every Sunday. Are we as fans expected to believe that the musclebound supermen who put their bodies through hell every week and bounce back seven days later to do it again aren't getting a little help? That seems overly optimistic at best and extremely naive at worst.
The reality is, players will test positive during this phase, and there will be blow back, and lots of it. Is the NFL prepared to deal with the inevitable image crisis?
Long term, HGH testing is the right thing for the league to do. But right now may not be the right time. Though they can hardly be described as eager, both the NFL and the Players' Association seem to be reaching toward a serious testing program.
The only question is, if that program bites back, will it ever let go?