The PEDs Debate Is Over

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By the time Al-Jazeera America’s The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers finally aired last night, it felt like an afterthought. That’s partly because The Huffington Post’s Saturday report on the documentary’s claims—most notably, that Peyton Manning has been an illicit consumer of human growth hormone—sufficed to fuel all the reaction the culture can muster for PEDs-in-sports stories at this point. Mostly, though, it felt like an afterthought because it was one. Here at the end of 2015, PED-abuse allegations in the NFL scandalize precisely no one.

The domestic dog walks in a circle before it lays down to sleep; this behavior is an artifact of a time when dogs primarily lived outdoors, and walking in a circle was a way to flatten undergrowth and make a softer sleeping place. Humans do this sort of thing, too, though they’re rarely as cute about it. The most illuminating aspect of this weekend’s Manning story was watching sports fans walk sleepily in their own little circles, treading down an outraged or moralizing or hypocritical reaction that existed solely in the collective memory of the species.


A representative but by no means complete sampling:


The timing and construction of these messages—I, wised-up resident of the future, warn you against the stupidity to come—is a dead giveaway. Those wishing to signal the proper stance vis-a-vis sports culture wars can’t sit around and wait for the stupid takes to materialize anymore because they probably won’t, at least from any quarters prominent enough to justify response. The actual allegation itself—that Peyton Manning has violated NFL performance-enhancing drug rules—is the very last part of this story anybody, anywhere, cares about.

People are evaluating the reaction, ESPN’s decision to give Manning a forum for rebutting claims that hadn’t yet been aired, and the reporting and filmmaking. As for the central question of whether one of the most famous and accomplished stars on America’s brightest athletic stage used HGH? The general reaction seems to be that eh, he probably did, and it’s only A Thing insofar as it puts him askance of league rules nobody anywhere invests with moral weight and everybody everywhere assumes are violated as a matter of course by Manning and everyone else. Three years ago the screen of your internet-browsing device of choice would be spitting the word “legacy” at you like a fistful of rocks. Nowadays you have to go in search of it, wading past the wised-up right-thinkers predicting its arrival as you do. In the end, you find @chiefsfan97443217 bleating into the wind.


This is a welcome development, if somewhat uncomfortable for those seeking to formulate our-culture-is-so-stupid-about-PEDs-in-sports responses to this sort of thing. The culture really isn’t all that stupid about them anymore! It’s bored by them, and rightly so. I can think of no mystery less interesting than whether an aging athlete with a broken neck used a substance that might not even work to return to a playing field where cortisone injections are given out like chewable Vitamin C tabs. The PEDs debate is over.

Photo via AP

Contact the author at or on Twitter @albertburneko.