The latest salvo in the “Questionable Performance Enhancing Drug” storyline in today’s professional baseball landscape was this interesting statement from Jonathan Papelbon last week; he and other Boston teammates frequently were injected with the drug Toradol by team doctors when they were feeling “run-down” or overly fatigued in order to get a quick pick-me-up for a game. Apparently Toradol had the effect of giving players a four hour window of feeling “pretty damn good” and it was used by a portion of the Boston clubhouse. Its also in use in many other clubhouses (though apparently not in Philadelphia, who told Papelbon his Toradol days were over).
Ok, how is Toradol not a Performance Enhancing Drug? It certainly seems to qualify based on WADA’s “Three Criteria” for PEDs:
- The capacity to enhance performance (clearly, as discussed by Papelbon)
- Use can result in negative health consequences (absolutely; Jon Lester suffered some of them and had a serious internal bleeding issue, and now Boston is reportedly reviewing its use of the drug)
- Violate the spirit of sports. (opinion based .. but after reading what Toradol can do, how can you NOT argue that its use violates the “spirit of sports?”)
(2/15/13 update: The Red Sox trainer who administered all this Toradol apparently “flouted” state laws by doing so, as reported by Jeff Passan, who is all over this case.)
By the way, WADA adds a drug to its banned list if it qualifies for TWO of the above three categories (hence the addition of things like “Deer Antler Spray” despite it having no known side effects, since it clearly seems to violate the spirit clause).
This leads me to my larger question: Why is Toradol, and as a side effect Steroids and HGH “bad” but the use of Cortisone, Toradol considered “ok” in terms of usage? What do Cortisone shots do? They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out. Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance?? Our own Ryan Zimmerman clearly benefited from cortisone shots in 2012; his before/after splits after receiving shots in his shoulder are pretty distinct and obvious. Cortisone itself also fits the 3 WADA principles; it enhances performance, it has side-effects that many doctors are quite worried about, and I’m sure some would agree it changes the “spirit of the game” in some ways.
If your answer involves something along the lines of “PEDs are banned because they’re illegal” then I’ll counter with this: Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled. But so is Cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order. And so is Toradol; you can’t go into your local supermarket and buy injectable Toradol. And so is HGH: ask yourself why most elderly persons keep bottles of the stuff on their bed-side table? Even something like a B-12 shot raises some issues; lots of players get B-12 shots and swear by the natural effect it has, but as with Toradol I’m pretty sure you can’t just get injectable B-12 and administer it yourself. Even though B-12 is naturally occurring, in order to naturally consume the amounts of B-12 being injected you’d likely have to eat a bushel of clams (or some other high B-12 food) every day.
Honestly I may have the biggest issue with the classification of HGH as a PED, when you think about what HGH is (a naturally occurring growth hormone that is generates solely to help the body heal itself after an injury or illness) and then think about what Cortisone accomplishes for athletes. So its “ok” to take a Cortisone shot that treats inflammation from an injury/strain so that you can go out and play better … but its NOT ok to take a naturally occuring suppliment to help with the same issue?? The only reason adults don’t heal as fast as kids is precisely because our natural HGH generation slows as we age … and doctors prescribe HGH to help the elderly heal from illnesses and injuries all the time. Isn’t this inconsistent?
And all the above just talks about various medications. Lets talk about the in-vogue plasma-replacement treatments that Kobe Bryant popularized and which have now been done by others, including Alex Rodriguez and Bartolo Colon. In this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan from Dec 2011, he discusses the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures. The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug? If blood doping is illegal, how is a procedure that filters out platelets and re-injects them to targeted spots legal? Colon was out of the game in 2010, got the procedure and suddenly is a 116 ERA+ pitcher in 2013; isn’t this concerning?
Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Colon got and makes a very good point; these new-fangled surgical procedures absolutely qualify for WADA’s 3 criteria. Passan has also asked the same questions I’m asking in a June 2006 article that started about HGH but ended with this same general question. And he makes very good points about cortisone, HGH, Testosterone and even Tylenol usage. Its worth a read.
Here’s another question: why is it “ok” to have performance-enhancing surgical procedures (Lasik surgery, Tommy John surgery, or any manner of surgery involving transplanted ligaments or tendons) but it is NOT ok to use drugs that have the same general effect? If I can take a pill that gives me 20-10 vision, which enables me to see the baseball better and become a better hitter, would that be considered a PED? I’m pretty sure … but yet people go get laser surgery and can get their eyes fixed to this level of quality any day of the week. Perhaps this is a ridiculous example but my point stands; whether or not your performance is enhanced by virtue of a bottle or by the knife, aren’t these valid questions? We’re starting to hear of psychotic parents of teen-aged pitchers actually getting “preventative” Tommy John surgery done, knowing that most pitchers who have the surgery see improvement in certain aspects of their game (since the Ulnar Ligament connector is actually strengthened in this surgery over how it grows naturally). Is this … ethical?
And then there’s this interesting point, which was proposed on a BS Report podcast done between Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman last week. If HGH is considered a PED, and HGH’s sole purpose in life is to help people get better after being sick … then why aren’t classes of anti-biotics such as Amoxicillin also considered PEDs? What is the difference? Klosterman then made the additional (scary) point that PED usage and testing may all be for naught eventually; Genetic testing and DNA manipulation may get to the point where there can BE no test to find out whether someone’s been genetically manipulated in order to be a superior athlete. Testing has been trailing the science for years in professional sports … it may eventually be rendered completely moot. Of course, taken the the ridiculous extreme, do we really want a slew of genetically engineered super-athletes competing for our enjoyment? Why not just invent a bunch of robots to play these games?
Food for thought. I know we’ve discussed some of these topics here before but do you worry about the inconsistencies in professional sports PED policies? I’m not sure I have an easy solution, but I will say that the classifications of drugs seems arbitrary in some cases.