What athletes, fans, and the sports media don't understand about human growth hormone.

The state of the universe.
March 24 2007 7:50 AM

The Growth Hormone Myth

What athletes, fans, and the sports media don't understand about HGH.

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The most likely reason that athletes use HGH, though, is superstition. A ballplayer might shoot up with HGH for the same reason we take vitamin C when we have a cold: There's no good reason to think it does anything, but we're willing to give it a try. The fact that the major sports leagues have banned growth hormone only encourages the idea that the drug has tangible benefits. Why would they ban something unless it worked?

This mentality has put doping officials and athletes into a feedback loop of addled hysteria. The World Anti-Doping Agency will ban any drug that athletes use, whether or not it has an effect. The WADA code points out that the use of substances "based on the mistaken belief they enhance performance is clearly contradictory to the spirit of sport." In other words, it doesn't matter if HGH gives athletes an unfair advantage. If Jerry Hairston believes he's cheating, then he really is cheating.

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That twisted logic has turned the latest round of busts into a giant PR campaign for growth hormone. Every star athlete who gets caught with a vial of HGH turns into a de facto spokesperson for the drug. In a certain sense, that might be a good thing: The media hype may soon make HGH so popular that it squeezes the more dangerous anabolic steroids out of the market. That's one way to clean up the game.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.