Over the weekend, a nation of sports fans trying to make sense of an Al-Jazeera report tying Peyton Manning to shipments of human growth hormone turned to Football Night In America for answers, and Rodney Harrison whacked them in the head with a frying pan. During the broadcast, Harrison was asked about his use of HGH when he was playing for the New England Patriots, for which he was suspended the first four games of the 2007 season.
“I used it, I never had an issue with my groin ever again,” he said. “It wasn’t smart.”
By talking about how off-label use of a prescription drug helped him stay healthy and then following on with a solemn non sequitur about what a horrible mistake it was, Harrison was right in line with the usual branding play here. Think Mark McGwire tearfully going on about what a bad idea it was to take drugs that by his account allowed him to stay on the field despite injuries that had him seriously considering retirement. If you didn’t know about the delimiters arbitrarily placed around certain kinds of medicines, what Harrison had to say—like what McGwire and Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun had to say during their ritual self-flagellation sessions—wouldn’t even logically follow. If you do know about them, it still doesn’t follow.
“I look at the kids,” Harrison said. “I look at my kids and other kids that look up to me and now I have to tell them why I did it. And maybe I can use this opportunity to let them know it’s not worth it. Point blank, period. It’s just not worth it.”
Kids aren’t stupid, and any kid Harrison tries this line on will, even if they’re too polite to say anything, almost certainly notice that he’s full of shit. By his account, using drugs helped him play for one of the greatest NFL teams of all time, and getting caught did so little harm to his reputation that he went on to a post-playing career in which he co-hosts the most popular television show in America. He can say Point blank, period all he wants, but what any kids who are paying attention will hear is Drugs are definitely worth it!
This raises the question of why Harrison and other athletes would even bother telling kids that using drugs that will help make them strong, healthy, and rich is a terrible mistake for which they’ll suffer dire consequences. The answer, of course, is obvious: there’s money in it. Harrison hosts Football Night In America; McGwire enjoys a successful coaching career; Rodriguez, despite getting tied up in a second doping scandal, has already started his own broadcast career before his playing days have ended; and Braun has rehabilitated himself enough to have been named to an All-Star team. Meanwhile, athletes who haven’t bothered to offer lame excuses or make teary shows of contrition—Lance Armstrong comes to mind, but there are certainly others—have stayed on the relative fringes. Why being honest is just not worth it is something it would be interesting to hear Rodney Harrison explain to the kids.