Commentary

Legalize it

A sports economist offers a radical fix to the HGH problem

Originally Published: March 11, 2010
By J.C. Bradbury | Special to ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in the March 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The NFL has it backward.

[+] EnlargeRodney Harrison
Greg Trott/Getty ImagesHarrison began using HGH after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2005.

Three years ago, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was the first active player in the league to confess to using human growth hormone (HGH). Now, the suspension of British rugby player Terry Newton for the same thing has put the banned substance back in the crosshairs. The NFL's response has been predictable: It wants to enact a new HGH blood-testing program -- the same type of program that snagged Newton. The union's response has been equally predictable: Not so fast; HGH blood testing is invasive and unreliable.

What neither party is proposing is the one solution that could eliminate the HGH scourge: Make it legal. The uninformed public calls HGH a performance-enhancer, but researchers know better. Testifying before Congress in 2008, Thomas Perls, an HGH expert, said, "There is no credible scientific evidence that growth hormone substantively increases muscle strength or aerobic-exercise capacity in normal individuals." Perls didn't go rogue. He was reflecting the academic consensus that HGH offers little to no athletic benefits.