Being falsely accused can create a visceral feeling unlike any other, an instinctual reaction that roars the very moment untruths about you reach you. I can only imagine how much worse the experience is when you’re a public figure and falsehoods spread across the world in a matter of minutes.
From that day forward, your story includes an unwanted page. Subsequent proof that the allegations were bogus don’t rewind the tape or erase the memory. Over time, some folks grow fuzzy on whether claims were true. Others simply believe they were accurate, no matter how evidence to the contrary was presented.
Then there are those who never believe anything negative about a beloved celebrity. They contend that the women are lying, the police are crooked, the informants are untrustworthy, the prosecutors are biased or the sources have ulterior motives. To true believers, there’s always a good reason to discount damaging charges.
At least until an accused party drops his vehement defense and finally fesses up (see: Lance Armstrong).
The latest case in the court of public opinion is NFL legend Peyton Manning, who vehemently denies an Al Jazeera report that he used human growth hormone as part of his recovery from neck surgery in 2011. According to the weekend report, performance-enhancing drugs have been used by several other athletes, including Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but combined they don’t have the same cultural impact as an accusation against Manning.
“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and is totally made up,” Manning said in a statement released by the Broncos. “It never happened. Never. I really can’t believe somebody would put something like this on the air. Whoever said this is making stuff up.”
The network based its report largely on undercover recordings of pharmacist Charlie Sly, who later recanted everything. “The statements on any recordings or communications that Al Jazeera plans to air are absolutely false and incorrect,” Sly said in a video posted on YouTube.
Mr. Sly and Al Jazeera are likely to hear from Mr. Manning’s lawyers very shortly. Meanwhile, the NFL and MLB will investigate players who were mentioned. The process of reputation repair has begun, with denials issued by several of the accused.
But this is a fine time to ask ourselves why we believe what we believe about Manning doing “something like that.” About performance enhancement and pain tolerance. About the arbitrary selectivity of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
Though I’ll take Manning at his word, I don’t know if he used HGH to speed his recovery after four neck surgeries. However, if he did, my opinion of him wouldn’t change one iota.
Manning proved his greatness long before he essentially suffered a broken neck. He was a 35-year-old star who sat out the 2011 season with a potentially career-ending injury. If HGH was necessary to get him back on the field and produce another MVP season, I don’t have a problem with that.
I’m fine with making case-by-case judgments, or even sport-by-sport.
The blood-doping that was commonplace in world-class cycling? That’s out-of-bounds, creating a sub-group of augmented athletes that drastically tips the field against those who don’t indulge. The same is true for steroid use in baseball and football, giving an unfair advantage to players with artificial boosts.
Here’s where it gets tricky: What’s legal and illegal? Baseball didn’t ban steroids until 2002, even though their use without a prescription is a crime. Likewise, amphetamine use without a prescription is against federal law, too, but it was rampant in baseball until 2006. They clearly enhanced performance (you can’t produce if you don’t have the energy to play), but no one thought twice about “greenies.”
In football, cortisone shots are OK, enhancing performance by allowing players to ignore pain. But certain over-the-counter medications are prohibited. And certain prescription drugs – such as Adderall, used to treat ADD/ADHD – dubiously have become part of the game.
Several states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and others have allowed it for medical use. But leagues still prohibit the substance for therapeutic use, while athletes can pound beers until they pass out.
Manning has earned the benefit of the doubt over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career. I’m not surprised by his denial and I hope he wins a big defamation case if warranted. But I wouldn’t be shocked if we find HGH was a factor in his amazing comeback with Denver. I wouldn’t be mad or disappointed that he used it, either. The only regret would be that he didn’t admit it right away.
The act itself would deserve a pass.