4 Ways HGH Impacts the NFL, and What Congressional Oversight Would Change

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent IDecember 13, 2012

4 Ways HGH Impacts the NFL, and What Congressional Oversight Would Change

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    Human growth hormones (HGH) continues to affect the NFL and the future of pro football will certainly get impacted.

    Players seem to get bigger, faster and stronger each year. And factoring in the NFL's popularity it's not surprising when questions regarding HGH enter the equation.

    Unsurprisingly, there remains a impasse between the league and the players' association.

    In an article by Bonnie D. Ford of ESPN.com:

    Congress can't officially referee the chess game between the NFL and its players' union regarding the implementation of testing for human growth hormone, but some flags were thrown anyway during a hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

    Adolpho Birch, the NFL's senior vice president for law and labor policy, called the union's continued insistence on studying NFL players as a group of athletes unlike any other to gauge the specific effectiveness of the HGH test on them "a straw man" based on concerns that are "simply unfounded.'' He said the union has not even been willing to settle on an expert to review the literature on the test and oversee a study, which he reiterated is unnecessary given the track record of the HGH test.

    Any way you slice it, we're on the brink of a potential milestone in NFL history. Given pro football's brand compared to the rest of American sports, the attention regarding HGH is not unexpected.

    As a result, we have to look at the HGH impact and how a party such as congress can provide an objective perspective. 

Longer Average Careers

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    Georgia Blanda played pro football for 26 years.

    Can you imagine a player lasting that long today?

    Sure we nearly saw that from Brett Favre, but these two players are also outliers. Meaning: They derive far from the norm.

    As the years pass, however, the average NFL career has increased. Per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com in September of 2011:

    A statistical analysis by NFL Management Council and AonHewitt, which released a study Thursday on NFL career life spans.

    The analysis concluded that the 206 drafted rookies who began their careers on NFL 53-man rosters will have an average career of 6.86 years.

    This likely is a head-scratcher for some—especially NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and Co —since for years, it has been said that the average NFL career lasts just three years, or less than half as long as the league now formally contends.

    Now considering the advancement of technology in every facet of life this increase comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, it does raise concern about HGH use from a broader perspective.

Increase in Overall Ability

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    Jerry Rice is widely considered the best player to ever step onto a football field.

    And it's unlikely that that ever changes, because the man possesses an insurmountable number of records.

    Will, however, the use of HGH performance get more and more players to put up Rice-esque numbers at their respective positions? Rice is simply one-of-kind and we'll never see his flawless ability ever again.

    But it's possible that a greater pool of players flirt with his level of ability courtesy of HGH.

    According to Helen Thompson of Nature.com:

    "Those taking human growth hormone saw their sprinting capacity increase by 4 percent. That may seem small, but it could make all the difference for, say, a 50-metres freestyle swimmer or a 100-metres sprinter," says Kenneth Ho, an endocrinologist at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Australia

    Obviously pro football being a pass-happy league inflates the quarterback and receiver positions in terms of stats. The use of HGH, though, appears to increase the probability that we see players gets faster, quicker and more athletic overall.

Injury Recovery

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    The inevitable occurrence of injuries in pro football have a tremendous trickle-down effect.

    Take Adrian Peterson from last season.

    He's easily the best player on the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL's best running back.

    Well, when Peterson went down last season that affected Minnesota's competitive advantage, the appeal of watching the team in-person or on TV and fantasy football.

    That's a lot for just one player.

    Tom Farrey of ESPN the Magazine in 2006 makes an interesting case regarding HGH and injuries, he writes:

    A good case can easily be made for HGH, which has been proved to add muscle size but, unlike testosterone, not necessarily strength. "You should be able to give growth hormone to someone who is deficient," says Joseph Maroon, the Steelers neurosurgeon since 1977. "It's the supramaximal amounts you want to avoid." Mark Gordon, a Los Angeles doctor who has prescribed hormones to retired NFL linemen, says players with waivers would have to agree to monitoring to ensure that their levels stay within the normal range.

    Helping recovery, even from a business perspective, isn't an entirely awful idea. After all, if a marketable player doesn't suit up because of an injury, watching that particular game isn't as appealing to the masses.

Physical Side-Effects/Post-Playing Career

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    For anyone that has played football, regardless of level, the physical aspect of the game can take its toll.

    Obviously the longer one competes, the more bruising impact the body receives with every next hit.

    When watching the NFL, collisions are so immense that even when an injury doesn't occur, you can see the immediate pain on a player's face and his body language. That's simply the reality of taking hits and getting hit on a weekly basis.

    The aftermath then becomes the next concern.

    In another article by Tom Farrey of ESPN the Magazine, Farrey writes of former running back Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar:

    A Miami surgeon injected HGH directly into the compromised joint. Every other week for two months, al-Jabbar returned to the doctor's office, where more of the bio-synthetic fluid was pumped into the knee in an effort to re-grow the cartilage necessary for him to return to the field.

    "I think anything that's helpful should be legal," al-Jabbar said. "Because when you're done, they fold you up and say goodbye."

    On the bright side, at least the NFL has become more wary of players upon retirement since al-Jabbar was slamming up the gut.

The Impact of Congress

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    Before anything even progresses on this topic, congress has to find a way to get more involved.

    And if anything, the good news is that the NFL and the NFLPA are at least trying to do something about HGH.

    From the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

    There is no question in my mind that the NFL and its players are best positioned to police their own league.  On HGH, however, there has been a frustrating lack of progress on testing.

    In a series of meetings, the players told us that they are not comfortable with the current test for HGH.  They have raised a range of concerns—that the test is unreliable, it doesn’t account for the size and exertion of NFL athletes, and even that drawing blood from a player on game day would affect his performance.

    Because of the unfortunate lack of progress, the potential impact of congress will hopefully speed up the process.

    Not to mention, it's a better viewpoint for objective insight and creating fair and balanced policies of the situation. Still, considering the league and the players' association possessing too much pride in becoming transparent, don't anticipate anything getting done until it actually happens.

    We saw how long the lockout lasted, but that got finished because the season was on the line. With money not the main issue here, expect a long drawn out process.