By Stephen Kroeger – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
In every sport there are athletes that try to get ahead by cheating the system. In the current environment, many players are using illegal steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) to improve their competitive advantage. These steroids give athletes an unfair advantage on their competition, leading to an uneven playing field. A common response when players are asked why they used steroids is that they had injuries they wanted to heal quickly and steroids or HGH was the fastest way to get off the training table and back in the game.
When athletes are injured (particularly high profile athletes), they can lose out on a huge amount of money. Moreover, their sponsors and teams can be at risk of losing and/or wasting potentially millions of dollars. A major knee ligament tear requiring surgery or a Tommy John elbow injury requiring surgery can take between 8-12 months of recovery time in order to get back in the game.
Derrick Rose is a NBA MVP player who has been in the news over the past few years suffering from various major injuries. According to Forbes, in 2014 he was ranked the 9th highest paid athlete in the world with a combined income (salary and endorsements) of just over $34 million, yet he missed 103 games in that season and the one preceding it. Owners and sponsors are not getting value and a return on their investment on players sitting in the press box, while fans of the teams pay a great deal of money to go to the games and are often unable to see their favourite players. This leads to fan apathy and can be devastating to the bottom line.
The 2015 version of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) makes it illegal to treat injuries with banned substances, notwithstanding Therapeutic Use Exemptions. But why shouldn’t athletes be allowed to use HGH and other currently illegal therapeutic methods to recover quickly from a devastating injury? According to the Institute of Sociological research, “HGH can increase your recovery overall and … recovery speed. (HGH) is highly recommendable if prescribed by a professional … it can extend careers in every sport.”
Admittedly allowing HGH to treat injuries is a very difficult policy to implement in individual sports. However, in a team sport, which involves a league and a players union, there is the possibility of both parties agreeing to create language in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that would allow this process to be accepted. According to WADA, “If the medication an athlete is required to take to treat an illness or condition happens to fall under the Prohibited List, a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) may give that athlete the authorization to take the needed medicine.”
Instead of trying to sneak HGH past the drug testers, if it were codified as a TUE in the collective bargaining agreements to be used following major injury, HGH could be administered and monitored by a doctor who is aware of the risks associated with the drugs and able to effectively explain them to the player. Additionally, the players would be able to get quality drugs that are not illegally trafficked, cut with potentially dangerous substances, or may not be the drugs that the player thought they were taking. This would create a safer environment for the athlete to take the drugs and heal.
For example, in the National Hockey League (NHL) the penalty for HGH use is non-existent. It is very possible for players to use the drug to get an advantage with zero repercussions. Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL says that the league is committed to implementing testing for it, however that has been delayed. Should the league implement the test, as well as regulated use, it could create a safer league, limiting the ability of players to abuse the drug. If it was allowed following major surgery, under the guidance of a doctor the risks would be minimized, and the doctors would be able to safely administer the drug only if it was medically necessary. According to section 47.2(g) of the NHL CBA, the TUE process is to be consistent with past practice, “unless otherwise agreed to by the parties.” It is clear that both parties want the players to succeed on the ice so an agreement benefitting both parties should be obvious.
Leagues succeed because of players, and if they aren’t able to be out in the field of play, everyone loses.