Because concussion is the diagnosis du jour, more than a few members of the media were quick to question whether it played a role in the monstrosity perpetrated by Jevon Belcher two weeks ago.
How short our memories are. Had this occurred five years ago, the press might have automatically implicated steroids instead. Consider, Belcher made the jump to NFL starter from the University of Maine — not a BCS school — after being recruited out of high school by nobody else. His ascent was unlikely at best.
I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but 'roid rage and depression fit perfectly with Belcher's conduct in the final hours of his life. Criminal investigator in Kansas City should certainly consider the possibility with all others. Furthermore, if Belcher was using steroids and/or other illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), where did he get them?
Given the number of NFL players suspended by the league this year for violation of its performance enhancement policy, it is not far-fetched that other players could be getting a little help from chemical friends. There have been at least 14 suspensions at last count, and those are just the relative few who have been stupid or unlucky enough to get caught.
Then there is the epidemic of torn tendons in the league. Tendon ruptures, especially in the upper extremity, are the province of major trauma, overuse, and older age. They happen in the shoulders of relatively younger pitchers, but only after thousands of innings pitched. Achilles tendons tears are common enough in professional athletes but historically limited to guys in their late 30s.
Do you really think all the over-sized, yet perfectly chiseled, men who play this game got there as the result of superior nutrition and conditioning alone?
The league does test for steroids, but criminal chemists tend to stay a step ahead of the drug detectives.
Worse, the NFL isn't testing for human growth hormone (HGH), even though it's been more than a year since the league and the players' union agreed to test for the substance. The delay? The union has refused to endorse a specific testing protocol, questioning the validity of the programs used by Major League Baseball and the International Olympic Committee.
I don't know what their objection is. Neither does Congress which, amid the “Fiscal Cliff” crisis, still found time to hold hearings on the matter last week. In a remarkable display of bi-partisanship, Democrats and Republicans alike warned the NFL and players union to come to a final agreement or face congressional intervention.
Congress probably has more important issues to address. However, teenage athletes routinely and sincerely imitate professionals. PEDs may have faded from the sports page headlines, but they remain a serious concern — short-term and long-term — when used by teens. If Congress' push for positive publicity results in a definite drop in the use of steroids and HGH among all ages, then the playing of politics will have been worthwhile.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.