We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Nate Jackson
To: Tommy Craggs, Stefan Fatsis
Before I inject on the HGH issue, I should revisit Stefan's subterranean rebuttal to my "Get Open and Throw it to Whomever" theory. I'm not advocating on-field anarchy. Of course, every football offense needs strategy and structure. What I mean is that NFL quarterbacks are often told where to throw the ball by their coaches as they are fed the plays through their helmet transmitters. No surprise, this limits the quarterback's field of vision and causes him to miss obviously open receivers, because those receivers weren't in his "progression." One reason why Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are so awesome, and why their offenses are so hard to stop, is that they are green-lighted to Throw it to Whomever. And they do. They use the entire field. Aaron Rodgers completed passes to nine receivers on Sunday. The Packers are undefeated. And Wes Welker, the most productive receiver in the NFL, is green-lighted to Get Open, albeit within certain parameters. But Welker has choices, unlike most NFL receivers. And we all see the results. It works. It's evolution. Get on board.
Now, on to the drugs. I don't think HGH is a problem in the NFL. Truly. In fact, I think the more we talk about it, the bigger problem it will become, because people who had no idea it existed are now being told it's a wonder drug that can't be tested for. The real harm with all this HGH talk is the effect it will have on high school and college sports. If those kids think their NFL heroes are on something, they're going to get on it, too. But from everything I've read, the effects of HGH aren't drastic. So why is a football player going to bother with that uncertainty? Why seek out, acquire, and inject a substance that might only help me a tiny bit?
Besides, these men are naturally freakish specimens. They don't need drugs to look like that. I know this isn't what people want to hear, but it's the truth. Sure, there are some juiced-up behemoths in the league. But they are very rare. The popular reasoning is that an aging football player might shoot up HGH to give him that extra edge he needs to compete. Well, there aren't many aging football players in the NFL. (The average age is 27.) And for the most part, the ones who are aging are well-respected team leaders who aren't going to risk their reputations on a "maybe" drug. It's a young man's league with abundantly flowing young-man testosterone. By the time you need to shoot up to get that edge, you're already gone.
The steroid witch-hunt that ripped through baseball exposed a culture in that sport that does not exist in football. Baseball players had intimate knowledge that their teammates were juicing. It was out in the open. It was the cool thing to do, and everyone was shooting each other up.
But the NFL doesn't work that way. The NFL is hand-to-hand combat. If you have to inject yourself in your ass to beat me, I've already won. You're not good enough. If you get caught taking a banned substance in the league, like Brian Cushing did, everyone looks at you differently. It delegitimizes your on-field persona, and you turn into a joke. For this reason, the players who are taking performance-enhancing drugs keep it to themselves. And with this kind of secrecy, I don't see much potential for it to catch on as a league-wide fad. I played for six years and never once saw or heard anyone talking about steroids or HGH.
But people want that myth. The media loves PEDs more than anyone. It helps them explain why they're not out there playing and the professional athlete is: He has to be cheating.
To me, the HGH hysteria is a left-handed ping-pong match between the NFL PR department and the press:
What about steroids?
We test for them!
All the time!
What about HGH?
What about it?
It's, like, a HUGE problem! Duh!
Well, we'll test for that too!
But how can you?
We'll figure it out!
You can't test for it! All of your players are totally on it! They're all cheaters!
No they're not!
Yes they are!
No they're not!
Yes they are!
And so on and so forth, until we get all wound up about the next drug.