It must be my birthday.
Repoz points to an interesting article by Michael Miner in the Chicago Reader. Unlike most journalists who have written on the subject, Miner has his facts together on GH. He has a reason to be knowledgeable of the subject because he has had to administer the drug to one of his children with a GH deficiency. I only wish other journalists were as informed as Miner is.
A new paper by three endocrinologists in Ireland and Britain tells us that “although it is clear that GH abuse by athletes is widespread . . . there is no evidence of its efficacy.” The next study demonstrating that it enhances either the strength or endurance of healthy athletes will be the first. According to two American endocrinologists I’ve talked to, there’s also no evidence that HGH does what Ankiel apparently wanted it to do—accelerate the healing of bones and muscles. But the jury’s still out. “Anabolic steroids were widely abused for more than 40 years. . . before they were definitively shown to increase strength,” the Irish/ British paper cautions, adding that the administration of HGH and steroids in combination remains a particularly unstudied topic.
I haven’t seen this paper yet, but it fits with all of the studies that I have read on the subject. It’s more evidence of something that we already know, yet the media continues to stumble on in self-righteous ignorance. “Why check the facts? It would only blow my story.” There is very little evidence that GH improves athletic performance or heals injuries, and the side effects are obvious and painful to the subjects studied.
I would like to address the analogy between steroids and GH, in terms of our progress of knowledge about the performance-enhancing effects. It is true that the experts once thought that anabolic steroids were benign, yet we now know this isn’t the case. It follows that the same could be true for GH. Possibly, but scientists have learned from their mistakes. Studies of GH mirror those that demonstrate that steroids do have an anabolic effect. These are double-blind experiments that involve placebo groups, which are published in top peer-reviewed journals by respected researchers. Both scientists and laymen must make a choice based on the evidence. Is GH an ergogenic aid or not? There doesn’t seem to be much of a choice.
What about mixing GH and steroids? Yes, there is no doubt that hasn’t been studied yet. The world is full of potential cocktails that may do everything from build muscles to curing cancer. Should we lose sleep over this possibility? If we want to prevent athletes from using GH with steroids, we don’t need a blood or urine test for GH because all we have to detect is steroids for which we have tests. Duh!
Instead, we hear grandstanding from journalists calling players wimps for not agreeing to blood tests. Owners are under such uninformed public pressure that they wasted $500K to fund a search for GH-detection in urine. But the harm is worse than a few misallocated dollars going to science. The real damage is that the perception of those tempted to use performance-enhancing drugs think that it works. This actually stimulates the demand for the drug, which had led to a rise in the production of black market GH. There are reports that high school kids use this stuff, which is scary. And I’m not sure whether or not it’s a good thing that the black market is likely provided something other than GH. The best way to combat this problem isn’t to make GH illegal—prohibition doesn’t work. I’m not suggesting that anyone should encourage the use of GH. Let’s get the facts out there: GH isn’t going to help you in your athletic endeavors and the side-effects are not pretty. That’s how you stop this.
Miner does a good job of taking the media to task.
Because “shame on you” stories virtually write themselves, the drug scourge is one of the best things that ever happened to baseball columnists. They wake up on the side of the angels, thwack the devil, and sleep like children. “I’m not jumping to any conclusions about his innocence or guilt,” allowed Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We don’t have nearly enough evidence.” So why was he writing at all?
Because, his column went on, “we have more than enough circumstantial evidence to raise another doubting eyebrow at yet another suspicious athlete.” The evidentiary standard for raising a doubting eyebrow is so extraordinarily low that I’d like to think no court takes it seriously but the one parents convene when cookies disappear and children are on the premises.
But among journalists, even if there’s no proof, even if there’s no evidence, even if there’s only circumstantial evidence of evidence, there’s an airtight justification for a column.
The funny thing is that Bryan Burwell has no excuse; he’s been warned, by me. After a horrendous column he wrote claiming that PEDs were the only explanation for the home run achievements of some sluggers I sent him an e-mail. Does he do the right thing and follow up? Of course not, or at least he never reported that he did. In fact, I saw him appear on an ESPN town meeting about Barry Bonds just a few months ago spouting the same uninformed garbage. I am not asking that you believe the other side of the argument, but you need to acknowledge that the other side is there to be responsible to your readers.
It is now time for editors to step up and demand more from their reporters. If you are going to write about the GH scandal, you need to talk to some informed medical researchers. It’s not about whether or not a player is clean, it’s about making sure people who think GH works know that it doesn’t.