Peyton Manning Sparks Debate

The first two weeks of the NFL season have been outstanding. The Lockout, which terrorized our lives for months, is a distant memory that has been almost entirely forgotten and has, if television ratings are to serve as a benchmark, only served to make the NFL even more popular.

The only major drawback of the season thus far has been the gaping hole left in Peyton Manning’s absence. Never in my lifetime has one player meant so much to his football team as Manning. Like clockwork, Manning had starred in dual roles as the Colts’ star quarterback and de facto offensive coordinator. Whether one rooted for or against him, his dogmatic and methodical control of the quarterback position made for compelling drama late into every season–week after week, year after year. With Manning, the Colts have been perennial Super Bowl contenders; without him, they are hapless.

Last week during the NFL pregame, Fox’s Jay Glazer dropped an absolute bomb shell about just how far Peyton Manning went to try to make it back this season. Glazer said:

I’ve learned that before his last surgery, Peyton Manning actually took a private jet out to Europe to get stem cell therapy, a therapy that is not yet approved in America. There’s different types of stem cell therapy; the one used in America is embryotic–that’s not what he had. Instead what they did was take fat cells, probably out of his belly, and put it in a culture. They try to almost turn back the hands of time with these cells, hoping that these cells are going to regenerate the area and the nerve in the neck. Peyton Manning is just trying to do whatever he can to get back this year.

Noting Glazer’s report, FoxSports’s Jason Whitlock posed the question as to whether it would have been morally wrong for Manning to use HGH to help heal his neck, opening up a debate about the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy as a whole. In his NFL Truths column, Whitlock wrote:

I’m just talking hypothetically. I don’t have any reason to believe HGH or any other steroid would help Manning’s recovery. But who knows, maybe they would? If so, would you be outraged if he used them to save his career, save his season?

 Let me tell you who wouldn’t be outraged: 1. Colts fans; 2. Peyton Manning; 3. Jim Irsay; Jim Caldwell; 4. FOX, CBS, ESPN and NBC executives; 5. Manning’s teammates.

As part of Deadspin’s NFL Rountable discussion with Slate, the excellent Tommy Craggs expanded on Whitlock’s hypothetical question and juxtaposed it with reaction to Manning’s stem cell story:

All the tired old PED arguments are applicable here—it’s not “natural”; it’s an unfair advantage; it screws with the sanctity of the record books—but no one, that I’ve seen, has trotted them out. That’s a good thing, but it also tells me that sports types care about those arguments only to the extent that they can be fit into the prevailing hysterias of the day.

Craggs’s implication here that the stem cell therapy was not vilified by “sports types” as performance enhancing because it lies outside an already-crafted-narrative is an outstanding point. Taking it further, it is curious that there would not be even MORE outrage to Manning’s stem cell surgery than if it was found out that he used HGH. Where this form of stem cell therapy is illegal in America, HGH use is banned by the NFL but there are at least some instances where its therapy is permitted by law. According to ProFootballTalk, Peyton Manning’s procedure did not violate NFL policy.

Going forward, it will be very interesting to see what the broader implications of this story are. The bodies of elite NFL players are incalculably valuable on many different levels and the league’s reaction to this situation could set a precedent for players’ going overseas to pursue healing methods that are not permitted in the United States. As medical technology becomes more and more advanced, it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out with regards to whether the NFL re-evaluates its policies on steroids and HGH as well as whether it continues to allow its players to seek innovative treatment in other countries.


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