I sometimes think of myself as a doctor, but you might be smart not to listen to my medical advice. I give it anyway. We’re talking drugs in sports. A lot of the guys I represented were totally clean. As a player, I wasn’t a big drug guy, but when I needed it, I took the shot. If the pills helped the pain and the ills, I took them. And after three consecutive operations in about a three month period, I took three weeks of the steroid Dianabol, then went off for a week and was too afraid to go back on. Word was it could make your dong shrink and, well…
So I never relied on competitive drugs. I never believed in them and only tried a few to get back on the field. I didn’t recommend them for clients either. I had other clients sit out if they could only play with a pain injection like, say, in the ankle. You screw around with an Achilles and hurt it after an injection, you do serious damage. So I wasn’t the Goody Shoes or whatever, but I had a clear line.
Did I have clients who took drugs they weren’t supposed to? Certainly. Did I have a problem? No. Would I represent them without prejudice? Yes. Easily. Would I disclose it? Hell no! Did I consider them cheaters? No, but it only came up if they were caught or suspected. It’s not like they ever came to me first. Were they disadvantaged, uneducated guys who had no place to go or no marketable skills? Nope, many would consider them sharp, good looking guys from top of the line schools. Clients knew I was not one to talk to if they were going this route – I didn’t approve and would try to talk clients out of it. But if you took the stuff on your own and you were in trouble, I was not only duty bound to represent you, I wanted to be the one to fight it.
I scratched and clawed out four pension years in the NFL anyway I could. I could have had a doctorate in special teams coaching – something I didn’t have to play in college where I thought I was big time. You don’t get a four year scholarship in the NFL. Playing as a pro means the world when you’re young. Many NFL bound college seniors routinely answer in past surveys that they would be willing to lose years off their life to play in the NFL. The NFL and NCAA have reported that only 1.6% of all NCAA players actually make it to the pros and there’s no guarantee on how long you’ll stick around.
I’ve seen up close the eyes of the devil – drugs in the NFL – and I’ve taken some to play. Against the rules in the NFL? Back when I played it was the Wild West. Guys smoked cigarettes and drank coffee at halftime. Some snorted coke in the restrooms, I once took a ‘Black Beauty’ before a game from the team pharmacist to help me play with the flu. You know them as speed. Combined with Darvon, they got me through my last game of the season my rookie year. You could get about any type of drug. I’m hearing a lot about HGH – pretty sophisticated. It keeps coming up with Peyton Manning. It’s a derivative of the pituitary gland. Breaking news? I heard about it on my Houston Oilers team about forty years ago when John “the Tooz” Matuszak injected a supply he had taken from corpses. He also injected, inhaled, sniffed, and sucked down every other drug known to God and man before his untimely death at 38 due to an overdose. So while I’m not a doctor, I know a little something about the NFL, players and drugs.
What are the issues with HGH and other PEDs in sports? It’s tested more in baseball, powerlifting, et al than in football or seemingly so. To me and my experiences in the NFL dating to 1972, I understand how a baseball player, grinding through a never-ending season and long career, takes HGH. Just know and understand it does not mean Iapprove or agree. In the NFL, testing during the season is more than a tad hurried. Every so often someone guesses at the percentage of players taking HGH in the NFL. Sometimes it’s a former player or current player that will render a guess. If more and more players begin using HGH and other PEDs, does it follow that you eventually get to situations where there’s little to no competitive advantage to taking it? I hope it never gets to that and I don’t believe it will in this country.
Does that mean your Joey or Judy has to take drugs to play competitively? My answer is, of course, a resounding no. And when do you start? The smart answer is never. But if you do, you do so knowingly and intelligently-at least knowingly. And of course, something new will come along promising even better results. No, in the end it is best to always separate the amateurs and the pros. They shouldn’t be compared, and Joey and Judy should never have to ingest anything but Cheerios and bananas for breakfast.
From a player’s perspective, you think of consequences of getting caught taking PEDs: suspensions, a loss of salary, potential harm to your reputation, potential loss of endorsement deals. When was a last time you heard this with a player taking drugs: It’ a breach of a NFL contract and signing bonus when the contract is signed if you’re wired. If all holds up as true with Aaron Hernandez, he breached his contract with the Patriots when he signed it. He had breached his representations at the time of signing his contract by committing the alleged acts. It’s been reported that Barry Bonds lost millions in endorsement deals over alleged PED use. A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season (bye-bye millions in salary and let’s not forget – DAMN IT- the agent’s commission!) over what MLB termed overwhelming evidence of PED use and actively trying to hinder MLB’s investigation into the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic’s ties to various players.
But what happens if you don’t get caught and it helps you play just a little better and you go from the guy who had a run of the mill contract to a monster deal? A just miss the 40-man roster slug to a guy who is comfortable, joking with the coaches? He can’t smoke a cigar in the locker room, but he doesn’t make it otherwise. Players have been known to ask conference rivals on the playing field, guys they played twice a year for years: “Dude, what the F are you on?” They know-it’s night and day with players, especially on the offensive and defensive lines where you know them like your wife. Or what if it helps you simply stay in the league making minimum deals, or hold on a year or two longer before retiring? Even if you do get caught, do fans or teams even care? Maybe parents care. Maybe others do too.
But Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was named the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the year in 2010 and was later suspended for the first four games of the following season for violating the league’s PED policy, and retained the award on a re-vote. He went on to sign a six-year contract extension in 2013 worth a reported $55.6 million. Do most people want the bone crushing hit and the long ball to the upper deck? Does it matter they’re beating Babe Ruth with better bats, balls, and not whiskey, but drugs? It does to me. Roberto Clemente wasn’t on that crap. Few could match him. But today the bigger, the better and take whatever it takes. Nice policy. That’s not the way it is supposed to be, is it? Meat on the Hoof? I don’t believe. Human growth hormone occurs naturally in the human body. My take is if any athlete is deficient in that area or borderline, it’s difficult to call that a competitive advantage. The best of medical people say it has not been studied enough and I’m sure that’s the case.
So as an athlete, do you take it to get back on the field? This is a question every person must answer for his or herself. For me back then, it’s hell yes, if you want to play. I not only would, I did. But it doesn’t make it right and it isn’t the way I advised my clients or my son. I never wanted-ever-my son to play big time college football or beyond. But I understand completely why all do. Really, most anything that gets you back on the field after an injury was in my view was okay. Now? No, I don’t like it for me or mine. Do you, a healthy athlete, take it for a competitive advantage? That’s your call my friend. You talk to me, I’m going to do what I can to talk you out of it. I say in the end, playing around that way as a young man, you might be betting quality time with you grandchildren later in life. Yes, those days (said by me with a wry smile), do come. But that’s only if you haven’t done irrevocable damage to yourself. And are able to have children in the first place.