My Solution to Rid MLB of HGH: Legalize It

Over the past year, I have written several blog posts about the lack of performance-enhancing properties of human growth hormone. I have not participated in any research on the subject, nor am I even remotely qualified to conduct such studies. Instead, I have relied upon experts in the field, who are in near-unanimous agreement that human growth hormone has little to no impact on athletic performance. Despite the academic consensus, the media has reported on the use of growth hormone by athletes in many sports without investigating the science. I have scolded the media enough—this is not the main point of this post—now, I wish to suggest a policy change to help rid baseball of this product.

The Mitchell Report identifies several players who allegedly purchased and used growth hormone, and it notes that players are moving to the drug from steroids because of the difficulty in detecting its use. Currently, there exists no urine test capable of detecting growth hormone. The popularity of the drug despite its benign performance effects is a paradox. Why do players spend large sums of money, while risking their health and player eligibility, to use a substance that does nothing? This is like sneaking near-beer into a high school prom, without the comedy.

Consider the story of Larry Bigbie, a marginal major league player who reports that he began using steroids during his 2001 rookie season. To Bigbie, it was easy to find a justification to use: it was a “make or break” year, he needed recover from injury to “finish the season strong,” he wanted to “jump-start” his off-season training. I’m sure he has no problem identifying with Michael Corleone—“Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in.” When random drug testing began in 2004, Bigbie was worried. He was on the hard stuff, and there was a good chance he would fail a test if he kept up his current regimen. Though he originally rejected using growth hormone out of the fear of potential side effects, his desire to remain in the big leagues forced him to switch over to the undetectable substance.

According to the Mitchell Report, “Bigbie did not believe that he was seeing a benefit from using human growth hormone that was comparable to the effects he had seen with steroids” (p. 157). Yet, Bigbie reports buying “five or six kits” from Kirk Rodamski in 2004 and 2005. After being traded to the Cardinals prior to the 2006 season, he contacted Radomski to order more growth hormone “to prepare for spring training.” At this point, the Rodomski was already working with the feds, so Bigbie never got his drugs and also ended up cooperating with the government. This tale is so sad, because we have a player who is using a substance that he thinks is dangerous, and he doesn’t even think it works! We only know about Bigbie because he got caught, but I’m sure that his story is similar to many other players’ experiences.

The point is that players have a strong incentive to gain an edge on each other. This road will inevitably lead many of them to seek out illicit solutions in an area where the experts are the guys who sell the stuff. And when they investigate further, they find prominent sports reporters declaring that HGH is just as effective as steroids. Do you think players are going to search through the scientific literature on PubMed? Heck, if I didn’t share an office suite with exercise physiologists, I probably wouldn’t know any better.

At the end of the day, players are going to take a long hard look at the list of prohibited substances. The fact that these drugs are banned will be sufficient to convince most players that the performance-enhancing benefits are real. The desperation felt by players may cause them to behave like the citizens of Springfield when they were beseiged by the Osaka flu.

Crowd: We need a cure! We need a cure!
Hibbert: Ho ho ho. Why, the only cure is bedrest. Anything I give you would be a placebo.
Woman: [frantic] Where can we get these placebos?

The crowd overturn a truck in search of placebos, but alas the only thing inside is a crate of killer bees.

But human growth hormone isn’t benign. It’s side effects are real and dangerous. The problem is that now that everyone thinks it works, players are driven to take it only to experience the harmful effects. Baseball has a responsibility to get the drug out of the game for the sake of the players.

In order to reduce the use of human growth hormone in baseball, I suggest a two-part plan.

First, the league must educate players about the scientific evidence regarding human growth hormone. Bring in doctors and medical researchers—not league or team officials—to talk to trainers and players. Make up simple pamphlets that show a scorecard of the number of studies showing the performance benefits versus the ones that don’t—it will be an obvious blowout. Explain to these guys that they have been duped. Give players a chance to discuss this with the doctors in confidence, as well as holding public sessions to which the media are invited. Union officials need to be involved, too.

The second and most important step is to pull human growth hormone off its list of banned substances. This sends a credible signal about the efficacy of growth hormone in improving athletic performance. Education alone won’t do it. As a public school student during the “Just Say No!” era, I am well aware that propaganda serves only as comedy to the target audience. As long as human growth hormone remains on the banned list, players are going to assume there is a reason. It is a waste of resources to search for a urine test to remove it from the game. Instead, tell players, “This stuff doesn’t work. If you want to use it, go right ahead and be an idiot. But, don’t complain when you experience pain and swelling and that you have to buy new hats, shoes, and gloves.”

While my libertarian sympathies make it easy for me to suggest legalizing many things, I believe athletic leagues have a strong interest in prohibiting certain performance-enhancing drugs. My desire to legalize human growth hormone has nothing to do with concerns for individual liberty. This is a league safety concern. I feel that legalizing human growth hormone, while publicly explaining the reason for doing so, is simplest and most effective way to discourage players from taking it.

24 Responses “My Solution to Rid MLB of HGH: Legalize It”

  1. Tyler says:

    Great read. Classic Simpsons reference. +10

  2. joe says:

    The read was good, but it doesn’t seem to be too unbiased when at the top of your page is 3 links to HGH dealers. If it is not good for athletes why does this site choose to advertise to the same demographic that you say it will not help? Its like saying this is bad and will not help but we have it really cheap at the top of our page! Seems like a conflict of interests to your story!

  3. Roid Rager says:

    Dumb as dirt. HGH kills people. Legalize it? Why not have the government distribute it like soylet green, you tool!

  4. Dave says:

    Very interesting read. But if you are right and taking HGH really does not improve a player’s performance, I agree with everything you say except for the legalizing of it in baseball. It would be pretty irresponsible for baseball and/or the federal government to legalize something that is proven to be detrimental to someone’s health. Imagine what would happen if baseball allowed HGH and a player ended up becoming extremely sick or dying? Would you legalize the injection of a radioactive substance if players really believed it would give them super powers but you knew it didn’t, but knew they would get cancer?

  5. JC Cincy says:

    Dude,,,What??? I guess they should legalize the crack your smokin too??? WOW…

    That’s classic,,Like chicken of the sea??? DUH…

  6. Chris says:

    Joe, this site is using Google AdWords. The advertisers just sign up to have their ads on any sites that mention the word HGH. The blog had nothing to do with choosing those advertisers, they just signed up for AdWords. No bias there.

    Plus the article’s message is exactly the opposite of what the HGH companies would like it to say. How is that bias?

  7. theillien says:

    I think, in order to solidify your argument, you should provide links to these studies to which you refer.

  8. JC says:

    Joe, your concern is a valid one. Thank you for bringing it up. I want to assure you that I have little control over the ads that appear on my site (as Chris explains). There are some filters that may allow me to remove some URLs, but I’ve never really worked with them. Google picks the ads that appear on the website on a rotating basis. But, the joke is really on the HGH dealers, because the keywords that attract their ads are employed to discourage readers from buying their products.

  9. theillien says:

    @Dave (comment #4):

    “It would be “pretty irresponsible for…the federal government to legalize something that is proven to be detrimental to someone’s health.”

    Like how they leave cigarettes and alcohol alone and only tax them?

  10. D says:

    Hey! Why not legalize marijauna while were at it so they can have HGH and get high while playing baseball. A playere wouldn’t know he was killing himself then because he would be frying all of his brain cells.

  11. Jon says:

    Right, because marijuana (which is non toxic) kills brain cells, but alcohol and cigarette (both of which are very toxic) are benign. I mean, they don’t have the highest death rate (rate, not raw numbers), right? Oh, right, they do. And hey, since we care so much about players health, lets not only not allow them to chew tobacco while playing or use HGH, lets not allow them them to smoke or drink alcohol. I’m sure many players like fatty food too, though heart disease, which is caused by eating such food, is the number one killer in the US. Hypocrites?

    Get over it. These are grown adults, they can make their own decision. They own their body’s, not you, MLB, or the government. If they want to do things that are unhealthy, then so be it. You can’t just pick and choose which unhealthy things are and aren’t okay. If the players team doesn’t want them using HGH, fine, they’re your employees. Kind of like some employers don’t want their employees to smoke. But to make ban HGH simply because it’s unhealthy, while allowing players to do other equally or more unhealthy things, is ridiculous. I mean, HGH doesn’t even help the damn players performance, so it’s not like a player using HGH has a huge advantage over one that doesn’t.

    Sorry about going off on a rant, but I agree with JC about MLB legalizing HGH.

  12. eric says:

    JC I see where your going with the argument, and it actually makes a whole lot of sense, especially if your claim is true that the supplement doesn’t help players much. However MLB can’t legalize it, think of the backlash from the fans, the media, and the government. There’s no way I can agree with you because of the fans baseball would lose, and they would look worse than when the whole steroid debate got started. I commend your efforts to give a different side to the argument, but baseball shouldn’t even consider this an option, because it isn’t one.

  13. Matt says:

    I have no arguement with this solution. The federal government would have little issue legalizing it when they can tax it, however. I do believe that ultimately only time and a new generation will push this issue away from the game. As sad as it may be, this era of athletes is already tainted. Science has begun passing many of these sports by and this will only increase in the future. HGH will eventually lose popularity but be assured something new and improved will be there to take it’s place.

  14. Dave says:

    @theillien

    alcohol has many positive affects, it is primarily detrimental to your health with prolonged abuse. anything if it is abused is probably not good for you. most of the food we eat contains some sort of corn syrup, which because we eat so much of it, it is not good for us. tobacco is a whole different monster. there has been a fight for years in courts on the affects of tobacco. i think i can safely say that the vast majority including the d.e.a. would agree that HGH is extremely dangerous to use.

  15. Sal Paradise says:

    Would you legalize the injection of a radioactive substance if players really believed it would give them super powers but you knew it didn’t, but knew they would get cancer?

    The point is that keeping it on the banned list for MLB makes it seem like it has an effect. Should MLB ban getting bitten by radioactive spiders? Or getting bombarded by cosmic rays? Or exposure to a yellow sun? Or…

    Making things illegal because they’re dangerous ends up silly.

    Should we make it illegal to cross the street without looking both ways? To eat too much junk food?

    Where do we stop? There is a point at which the government has to say, “We’re not your mother, we can’t protect you from everything, use some common sense.”

    Then again, I, like JC, tend to have libertarian tendencies, so our views may differ.

  16. David says:

    While in principle a good idea, legalizing human growth hormone would be a PR nightmare for MLB. Forget educating the players; if the media, and thus the public, don’t pick up on this, it would look like MLB raised a white flag against PEDs and then the federal government would have to regulate drugs in Major League Baseball. About the only way for this to work would be for this to be mentioned in the State of the Union, on Oprah, or maybe, maybe the late night talk show/ fake news guest rotation.

  17. dmk says:

    actually, the reason why players use HGH oftentimes has nothing to do with its effect upon athletic performance. the most cited reason i have come across is this: when using steroids, a person’s muscles and strength grow very quickly, and the connective tissue that connect the muscles to bones does not strengthen nearly as fast.

    so, when doing steroids, the number of injuries related to connective tissue increases. in the extreme example, like dean palmer, you can get the muscle actually tearing from the bone. so, players often use HGH concurrently with steroids to strengthen the connective tissue.

  18. theillien says:

    @Dave:

    Prolonged use is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that alcohol has been directly linked to death whether it be liver failure or drunk driving, making it dangerous while still being legal.

    There can be all kinds of lawsuits and other legal action against cigarette manufacturers but until Congress passes the law that makes them illegal, it too, is irrelevant.

  19. mike c. says:

    players often use HGH concurrently with steroids to strengthen the connective tissue

    I thought I’d heard all of the hGH myths, but this is a new one for me. Please site the peer-reviewed scientific study that demonstrates the efficacy of hGH in strengthening connective tissue in healthy young adults.

    Anyway, MLB isn’t the government, so they can’t “legalize” hGH. The FDA is cracking down on non-approved uses of hGH, and Congress is about to make it a Schedule III drug. So, while MLB could do as JC suggests and remove hGH from the list of banned performance enhancing drugs, they really have no choice but to continue sanctioning players who are caught using it.

  20. Droid says:

    What a joke. Somatropin (injectable HGH) is definately a performance enhancer. How do I know? I went from a 290 pound fat f*** to a 230 lb. monster using it for 9 months. Don’t let this shill fool you. Somatropin and OTC legal gear will give you equal to greater results that anabolic steroids. Clown.

  21. John says:

    You’re presenting the problem as one of perception vs. reality. OK, I’m too lazy to comb through research, that I’m relativley sure both refutes and supports you’re contention of HGH being ineffective for enhancing athletic performance, so I’ll take it as a given. But if you remove the sanction and disgrace from the game, don’t you perpetuate the problem with each younger generation?

    An example: 19 year-old skinny Joe Minorleaguer starts taking HGH at extreme levels. He also changes his diet, his workout, and does all the other things professional althletes do. He then gets huge muscles and changes his name to Studs Bigleauges. Now what caused the muscle– HGH, the workouts, etc.? I don’t know, and chances are that our now huge ballplayer won’t know either. But all it would take to convince an impressionable young high-school kid to try HGH, is for him to hear that a big leaguer got to be a star after using it. I think this is especially more risky if there is no negative consequence on Studs for his stupid decision to use HGH. Yeah, you can tell the world that Studs is gonna suffer the terrible side effects of HGH use years down the road, but Studs didn’t think that far ahead, and I don’t think you can expect the high-school kid to think long-term either. As a huge unsupported generalization, the younger you are, the less you think in the long term. Had Skinny Joe knew he was risking his whole career the instant he tried the HGH, maybe he thinks twice and doesn’t use it. Or if he does, maybe he’s drummed out of baseball in disgrace so fast that a bunch of impressionable kids don’t hear about him, or when they do hear, it’s in a negative light, thus hopefully deterring them. In a classic carrot-and-stick deterrance scheme you need both the carrot and the stick. Thre is no carrot for those who refrain from HGH use; sure, they’re going to have better health years down the road, but I find that a rather elusive carrot to hold up. So, lacking a carrot, you’re left with the stick approach. De-listing HGH takes away the stick as well. If you’re going to do that, you’d better be sure that education programme is damn-near 100% effective.

  22. Kyle says:

    Jeebus, is the reading comprehension level of (some) commenters bad, or what?

    And that last guy, “Droid”? Wow, that’s just sad.

  23. Jim says:

    This will send the wrong message to young athletes — if at first you don’t succeed, dope up. Sorry, we need strict tests and keep out PEDs. Individuals should be able to play on their own merits, not through drugs.

  24. But all it would take to convince an impressionable young high-school kid to try HGH, is for him to hear that a big leaguer got to be a star after using it.

    What is this same impressionable young high-school kid going to do when he hears that Dukes has how many children from how many different girls? There comes a time and a point where if people are going to make stupid decisions, you let them. Yes that is somewhat narcissistic, but if people are willing to make one mistake because they heard someone made it big because of it, chances are they are going to make another – or find a different scenario and situation. Personally, I could care less what impact a major leaguer has on teenagers, the same way the rest of society doesn’t care about the impact Hollywood or the other professional sports impact children’s lives.