I watched a good bit of yesterday’s Congressional hearing regarding the Mitchell Report. The star of the show was not a person, but human growth hormone (HGH). Bud Selig and Donald Fehr were honest and acknowledged mistakes about the past, but the league and the players union have come along way to develop a system for deterring the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Mandatory random drug testing with fines and suspensions are consistent with what other governing sports bodies employ to deter doping. But the fact that HGH remains undetectable is distracting everyone from the progress that has been made. It is just not that big of a deal. And it pains me that both Selig and Fehr are being blamed for not being able to eradicate a drug that people only think enhances performance.
Here is what Selig had to say.
Senator Mitchell’s report reveals that those who are intent on cheating will continue to search for ways to avoid detection, such as turning to the use of Human Growth Hormone (“HGH”) which is not detectable in a urine test. Perhaps my single biggest frustration in reading Senator Mitchell’s report was in learning that, just as Baseball was putting in place an effective testing program aimed at steroids, HGH use was growing. Just as we have seen our programs effectively reduce the use of steroids in Baseball, I am committed to stop the use of HGH in our sport, as well. Along with the National Football League, Baseball is funding an effort by Dr. Don Catlin, one of the leading drug testing experts in the world, to develop a urine test for HGH, and we will be convening a summit of the best minds in sports and science to develop a strategy to address the use of HGH by players. Just recently, we have joined with the United States Olympic Committee in a new, longterm program of research on performance enhancing drugs. Our initial commitment is for $3 million in funding. When a valid, commercially available and practical test for HGH becomes reality – regardless of whether the test is based on blood or urine – Baseball will support the utilization of that test.
A $3 million initial commitment to detect a drug that even the Mitchell Report declares to be ineffective (pp. 9-10)? [See I Don’t Worry about HGH in Baseball, and Neither Should You for further evidence.] Selig may be acting on many of Senator Mitchell’s recommendations, but he’s got no one to blame but himself on this one. I’d much prefer that MLB allow HGH use, spend some money educating players on how this stuff doesn’t work—and please no more scare-tactic commercials with deflating balls or crumbling statues; these do nothing—and then devote the bulk of those resources to the RBI program. Take HGH off the banned list and send a credible signal to players that this stuff doesn’t work (my plan).
Fehr seemed even more bothered than Selig by the fact that there are not reliable tests for HGH.
Senator Mitchell pointed out that our JDA is indeed working to detect the use of detectable performance enhancing substances. With respect to steroids, the numbers are clear: We have conducted more than 3,000 tests in each of the last two years, and the number of steroid positives we have had during that time is five. More precisely, during 2006 and 2007 we conducted 6,252 tests, and there were five steroid positives (two in 2006 and three in 2007).
But what about undetectable PEDs, most notably Human Growth Hormone (HGH)? We share Senator Mitchell’s concern, and we have acted. Starting in January 2005, we banned HGH. We do not test for HGH, because there is no scientifically reliable urine test available. As soon as one is, our agreement states that HGH testing for players will begin automatically.
Even in the absence of a test, our commitment against HGH is no less strong than our commitment against steroids. We have developed and agreed to procedures which allow players to be suspended for HGH use based on evidence other than a positive test, a so called “non-analytical” finding. In both 2006 and 2007, players were suspended on that basis.
Of course, it is possible that a valid blood test for HGH will be developed before a valid urine test. However, as Senator Mitchell has indicated, if there is a blood test developed in the near future it may well be of very limited utility; i.e. a player will need to have used HGH a very short time before the test in order for it to show up. In addition there are very serious issues involved with blood tests for athletes, particularly on competition days, and in baseball we play nearly every day. As of now, no major professional sport has blood testing for PEDs. If and when a blood test becomes available, we will consider it based on the facts then available.
However, the biggest problem with HGH is very probably its availability to the American public. Anti-aging clinics and others openly advertise in magazines stressing the benefits of HGH. We will continue to take steps against HGH, but this is a societal, not just a baseball problem. If we did not know that before, the investigations into internet pharmacy sales of HGH made public over the last year have made this apparent.
All one need do in order to appreciate the magnitude of this problem is to go onto Google’s website and type in the words, “Where can I buy HGH?” A few days ago this search returned 349,000 options in a quarter of a second. Advertisements for HGH can be found in newspapers and magazines nationwide. For example, in the current Continental Airlines magazine, on page 99, there is an advertisement with the following headline: “Choose life. Grow young with HGH.” Abuse of HGH and other licit (and illicit) pharmaceuticals is not just baseball’s problem.
And I feel for Fehr, because he can’t come out and say that HGH doesn’t work, even if he is aware that of this—I believe that both Selig and Fehr know this. The committee would have laughed him out of the room because he is the enemy. This runs counter to every thing we “know”. He might as well have said that Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon. Instead, he provided a comical advertisement that puts the drug on the same footing as ionic bracelets. Nice tactic, by the way.
And what about the children for whom the representatives showed so much concern? What about them?! Do children buy growth hormone to improve performance? According to Kirk Radomski, the going rate for the drug is $1,600 for a one-month supply. That’s more than most parents’ house payments. Teenagers are not buying HGH to pump up anymore than they are buying $200 bottles of mail order wine to get drunk. There is the role model issue, but this just doesn’t concern me. The world is full of immoral people. Teach your kids right and wrong and get over it. I’m more worried that my children will be influenced by friends and family than baseball players. Anyway, I find Tony La Rusa to be more offensive than any of the players he has ever managed, but I think it would be a bad idea to hold congressional hearing on rampant arrogant jackassery in sports. This is a bigger problem in the role model department for professional sports.
The fact that HGH is undetectable is a problem only if it enhances performance. The evidence is that it doesn’t, so let’s move on. The war on HGH serves as the drug’s best advertisement, and Congress just bought anti-aging clinics a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. At the next hearing, I hope that Congress invites some clinical researchers who have studied the substance to weigh in.