It was a brutal week in the NFL. The cart came out too many times, and we saw season-ending injuries to the likes of Steve Smith, Le’Veon Bell, Keenan Allen, Reggie Bush, Khiry Robinson, and Cameron Wake. Was it a rash of bad luck? Former NFL QB Brady Quinn wonders if it isn’t something more sinister.
Quinn, who bounced around the league from 2007-2014, appeared on CBS Sports’ Roughing the Passer podcast yesterday and intimated that bigger, faster players are leading to more injuries, and that some of those players didn’t get bigger and faster the natural way. He specifically named HGH as a potential culprit.
“I’m not going to be a whistleblower and I’m not accusing anyone of anything. There’s got to be something these guys are taking. That’s what I think at least.
“You could say it’s what they’re taking, supplements and things that they’re putting in their body that are dehydrating their body and making them a little more tight and brittle, those sorts of things.”
Quinn said he believes “40 to 50 percent” of players are taking banned substances, and singled out HGH for its near-undetectability—the current test only catches players who have used it in the previous 48 hours. There were as many as 1,335 tests conducted by the NFL last season, the first year of testing, and zero positives.
Quinn’s probably not far wrong on the prevalence of banned substances, but his pet theory is lacking. For one, there’s no reason to believe there are more injuries these days than in years past. They’re more noticeable because they’re clustered, and happening to more visible skill (read: fantasy) players, but I haven’t seen any numbers indicating they’ve increased.
For another, while steroids are tied to increased injury risk, anabolics aren’t the drug of choice for athletes anymore. Too easy to detect. The science is out on whether other PEDs carry the same risks. HGH, especially, hasn’t been close to thoroughly studied.
Nevertheless, Quinn nails the calculus involved when players decide whether to take banned substances. The testing isn’t comprehensive enough and the penalties not large enough for the risks of getting caught to outweigh the benefits of doping.
“I’m not accusing anyone. But I think the usage of of HGH or performance enhancing drugs or supplements is greater now than it’s ever been because the money is bigger now than it’s ever been and the punishment isn’t really that bad if you think about it.
“If you’re a top-of-the-line guy and you’re getting $16 million a year—you’re getting a million bucks a game—if you get popped for taking something that helps you get that big-time contract or hit that incentive in your contract where you get paid all of the sudden in your contract year, guess what? First [failed test], four-game [suspension]. Let’s talk about financially, ‘Am I going to sacrifice $4 million in order for me to get that big contract on the back-end? Yeah, I am.’”
Left unsaid is that the math works the same way to teams. If their players risk so little on doping to get better, the NFL has no particular motive to increase that risk. And if injuries become slightly more likely? Well, that’s just part of the equation.
Photo via AP.