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Analisa Roche

Completely agree with you, and also thought of the medical marijuana parallel. It's just that most people can't see the "exceptions to the rule" or the shades of gray in these kinds of cases. They feel threatened by a lack of black and white/all or nothing.

Steve Sailer

Well, is it wrong for a ballplayer to hang around with professional gamblers and bookies? Is it wrong for him to bet on other sports than baseball? Is it wrong for him to bet on other teams, but not his own? Is it wrong for him to bet on his own team to win? Is it wrong for him to bet on his own team to lose?

The last is catastrophic to the welfare of baseball, so to minimize temptation, the game has walked its rules about betting a long way back up the slippery slope.

Similarly, once players start taking HGH to help them over nagging injuries, how likely is it that they will stop? Why not keep going with the HGH until your head has swelled to Barry Bonds's size and you're suddenly hitting the ball better in your late 30s than Babe Ruth did in his 20s?

Christopher Horn

I caught a funny Jim Rome riff at lunch today today that was related to Sailer's observation above ("how likely is he to stop?").

Rome was blowing up the "steroid user talking points", specifically lambasting these guys for not just "owning it", but rather vomiting up boilerplate, craptastic excuses such as
"I only did it once!"
"I was recovering from an injury!"
"I was looking out for the team!"

Maybe Malcolm is right to be more trusting than Rome-y.

For the record, I followed the spirit of this blog community by participating in the thought experiment and assuming, "for a minute", that Vina et.al only took the steroids for the standard reasons cited.

That "minute" seemed particularly short, as minutes go...

malcolm gladwell

There are actually very good reasons why an athlete would use HGH only in the short term, by the way. The risks of drugs like HGH are, as I understand it, basically a linear function of duration of use. Used in the short time to treat injury, fine. Used chronically, and then you start to run the risk of more serious side effects and problems.

Josh King

Absolutely - taking HGH at that time (or, for that matter steriods prior to the 2003 season)wasn't against baseball's rules. It wasn't cheating.
I can't understand the sanctimonious moralizing over what is at worst a traffic infraction.

michael webster

Malcolm, why not go all the way in you reasoning.

Why on earth is any fan complaining that his favourite athlete took performance enhancing medicine?

Did we want them to engage in activities which produced poor performances?!

I for one, as a fan, enjoy superlative performances - Bonds knocking it out, or Clemens mowing people down. That is what I pay money for - performance.

The athletes should have to disclose fully their medical/training regime.

But to ban it is foolish, counterproductive and just down right stupid.

Matt H.

I think Vina’s "obviously it was wrong" comment stems from the fact that Vina knew it was a violation of MLB rules and, if I understand the situation correctly, against Federal law because Vina did not receive a doctor's prescription.

Other than those reasons (big ones to be sure) I find nothing wrong with limited short term use of HGH by athletes to recover from injury. But how would MLB actually set and enforce rules that would govern the use of HGH by their athlete's?

I find myself agreeing Steve Sailer on this one--better to ban the substance all together, rather than navigate the slippery slope that would be HGH governance.

Glad to see you are blogging again Malcolm! I'll have to catch up on your other posts I've missed. Are we going to be seeing a new book from you in the near future?

Killian Tobin

Athletes aren't saying they used HGH because without it they wouldn't ever recover, they are taking HGH to recover _faster_.

Is it OK for a race car to use a higher performance engine than their class allows because they want to do it faster?
Is it OK for a pitcher to throw a spit ball?

Neither are acceptable because it puts the people who play the game according to the rules at a disadvantage.

HGH might not have been explicitly banned by MLB rule books until 2005 but it is still cheating because it is a performance enhancing drug. It might not make you hit homers, but it definitely improves your performance.

Technically guys pre-2005 were pushing the line (but probably felt like they were cheating)- after 2005 they definitely knew they were cheating.

To put this in perspective here are some HGH approved uses:

"In adults the approved uses include AIDS related wasting and growth hormone deficiency (usually due to a pituitary tumour)."
(includes a graph showing permitted uses in various countries)


As Fay Vincent discussed several years ago in his now infamously ignored memo to MLB, the issue is not to equate the dangers of steroids with those of HGH. Vincent's point is that, according to Federal law, it is illegal to possess either steroids or HGH without a valid prescription.

Secondly, as far as I know, the issue with HGH is that it has never been prescribed as a mechanism for speeding the healing process after injury. Therefore, a player's use of it for those purposes is also "off-label."

As the WSJ and the NY Times have mentioned lately, the federal government has not tended to take off-label prescriptions lightly. One only has to look at their pursuit of Genentech under criminal charges to realize the severity.

So although MLB didn't ban HGH until 2005 (2 years after Vina's admitted use,) it seems pretty clear that Vina says it was "obviously" wrong because he knew it had been obtained illegally.

The shame of the Mitchell report is that it equates the use of HGH with steroids and lumps them both together as performance enhancers that changed the face of baseball.

Dan Sage

Perhaps what he meant was, "I'm supposed to acknowledge that it's wrong so that people forgive me because, for some reason, everyone thinks it's wrong."

That seems to be what most public figures actually mean when they come forward or are caught doing something wrong. Even though a lot of them probably see nothing wrong with what they did, they still acknowledge how wrong it was because they want the public on their side. Saying, "Yes, I did it and I don't think anything is wrong with it," means that you have be fairly convinced of your stand. A lot of apologetics simply want to apologize and move on, they don't want to take a stand.

Joshua Prowse

It's wrong because HGH has side-effects which mean that people shouldn't use it. Players are pressured by Major League Baseball to use such dangerous substances - long term consequences be damned. And the players are not making a fully informed decision when they choose to use HGH.

If this argument about side effects isn't true (if such side effects don't exist or aren't severe enough) then there is nothing wrong with what he did. This makes the debate an empirical one.

malcolm gladwell

re: Metrodad's point about off-label use. Yes, the FDA is very stern about regulating the promotion of off-label use by pharmaceutical companies. But a doctor can prescribe a drug for any reason he or she chooses (with a few exceptions). An athlete is legally in the clear, in other words, if they obtained their HGH via prescription from a licensed physician. (Which I don't know that Vina did, in this case).

Dane Cao

I think they are banning HGH or medical marijuana or any other thing that "can be used for more than one purpose" because of the very fact that one(or more) of the multiple purposes it serves could be potentially(or in some cases apparently) detrimental to the general well-being of something or some state.
To forestall risks, they eliminate all possible premises for such risks.


I think it's wrong for Vina to take any supplement and not be up-front about it, while putting himself on the free agent market.

Vina signed a deal worth $6MM with the Detroit Tigers, all while not mentioning his use of HGH.

If using HGH to heal from an injury is so acceptable, the least he could do would be to notify the Tigers of his use before accepting a check for $6MM.


I think the argument is that recovering faster is as performance enhancing as building muscle. I think it makes sense for the sporting world to try to draw the line somewhere striking a balance where health concerns arise.


Oh c'mon, the MLB isn't denying him medical treatment, they are just saying that he can't both have this medical treatment AND remain a part of their organization, at least in capacity as a player.

He has every right to the treatment, just as pro ball players have every right to gamble, and the organizations of which they are a part have the right to tell them they have to make choice between these activities and membership in their organization.


your claim that the MLB denies medical treatment to its employees is accurate, but it obscures the fact that its employees are people who can choose to cease being employees, perhaps not without some contractual penalties.


As I see it, this is wholly an issue of his not having had a prescription. Buying HGH out of the back of some guy's car is about as wise as buying a handgun that way -- sure, you might find a legal way to do it, but your spidey-senses are probably telling you that something is wrong....


Just curious where Lasik eye enhancement surgery goes with this line of argument. Isn't it a medical procedure that enhances athletic performance?


There are a lot of falsehoods in all this HGH talk. The best advice I can give you all is to read some Rob Neyer on ESPN.com. His blogs are very insightful, and he has a wealth of knowledge on HGH and PED's, and many good reasons why they are banned and should not be used. He also has a really blog from yesterday about how they DO NOT help athletes. Check it out: http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?name=neyer_rob&univLogin02=stateChanged

Also read his other stuff.

Zorro for the Common Good

Does anyone else find it hilarious that every player who has "confessed" since the Mitchell Report came out has copped to the absolute bare minimum: "I only used it once and then immediately stopped, and it was HGH and not steroids, and I was just trying to heal faster and help the team, and also save the lives of puppy dogs who suffer from cystic fibrosis ..."

Gladwell says that if Vina, Pettitte, et al are telling the truth, what they did isn't that bad. I disagree (largely for the reasons Steve Sailer cites). But really, why should we accept for a moment that any of them are telling the truth? If we've learned anything from Palmeiro, Roberts, etc, it's that these guys will lie when it suits them, and 'fess up when they get caught.

Aubrey Cohen

I like to think of it in terms of how I would feel if my child was a professional athlete. Once it's accepted to use drugs with harmful side effects, it soon becomes expected. At the very least, it puts clean players at a disadvantage. Would I want my son to be expected to harm himself so he could recover a bit faster or get stronger?


When an employee is injured on the job I think the argument can and should be made that his employers have to think awfully hard about denying said injured person the best possible treatment. If HGH is this treatment it becomes difficult to argue against.
As for the slippery slope argument, it simply does not hold. Humans have an amazing ability to draw lines in the sand. Does weight lifting make steriod use more attractive? I think the answer is a clear yes. The reason we don't outlaw weight-lifting is that it fits in with our moral worldview. Arguing that temptation will occur from HGH use to recover from an injury sustained on the job is to ignore the facts Mr. Gladwell lays out.


Vina said it was obviously wrong because it is so obviously wrong.

I am shocked at this post.

HGH is an artificial way to improve your athletic performance. By taking it, you are risking your long term health. Thus, athletes (modern day heroes) are put in the difficult position to risk their health to stay up to speed with the other athletes. It creates an un-level playing field.

Not to mention that it puts the idea in children's minds that it is ok to use HGH. I would hope that at least everyone here can agree that a High School student should in no way be taking HGH.

Christopher Horn

Upon further review...I thought about the book "The Bronx Zoo" by Sparky Lyle, his memoir of the 1978 (?) Yankees, which in addition to myriad stories of bad behavior, also revealed a culture of illegal substance use in baseball that apparently goes way back.

Substances such as greens, reds, quaaludes, you name it, players took it, sometimes to get high, sometimes to get through the season, sometimes both.

I suppose we can infer from McGwire/Bonds/Sosa that the 1990's+ generation of illegal substances was more effective than the 1970's (and earlier) generations.

But the notion that the steroid era was something new to baseball (in the respect of using illegal substances) is completely wrong.

Where does Vina's misdeed fit in the larger history of baseball drug use? Its not easy to tell.

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