HGH: Clemens Denies Taking It to Get Buff, Stallone Loves It -- Will It Go Mainstream?
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Roger Clemens is a terrible liar.
When he threw a shattered bat at Mike Piazza during the infamous Mets-Yankees Subway Series in 2000, he tried to tell me, the sole journalist given post-game access to him because I was also managing his personal website, that he figured the shattered stick was the actual baseball. Rather than trying again to hit the same player he had nailed between the eyes with a reportedly errant fastball earlier in the year, the Rocket argued, he was simply trying to get a confused if routine out at first. And he didn't understand or appreciate the implications opposing theories were putting him or his family through.
Two Bush terms later, and he's foisting the same dogged, determined line on Congress, but this time about something much less dangerous: human growth hormone, commonly known as HGH. And before you disagree with that admittedly unpopular position, ask yourself this: Would you want Roger Clemens throwing broken bats at your head, or would you rather he kindly inject you with HGH and help you pick up World Series wins, Cy Young awards and million-dollar endorsements along the way? It's not an easy question to answer, especially now that Congress has decided that Clemens' recent testimony in a hearing on HGH was mere theater wrapped in perjury and possibly demands a Department of Justice investigation.
But before you answer it, maybe you should consider what Rocky and Rambo icon Sylvester Stallone said after his 61-year-old body outweighed its former Rambo by an additional 40 pounds of muscle: "HGH is nothing ... Mark my words. In 10 years it will be over the counter."
Given the nexus between sports and pharma, it's hard to argue with him. It's the same logic that dictates the lucrative relationship between the erectile dysfunction market of Viagra or Cialis and the National Football League, for example. Created originally to treat hypertension and angina, which didn't work out so well, Viagra feasted on male insecurity over impotence and went supernova, which has worked out very nicely indeed ever since. Meanwhile, HGH has been used for years to treat growth deficiencies and other conditions, although in earlier days the hormones were taken from the pituitary glands of cadavers. When synthetic hormone production kicked in during the 80s and 90s, the drug crossed over with a quickness, breaking out of its conventional usage in pediatric endocrinology and going viral at pharmacological multinationals across the world. And it wasn't long until, like Viagra before it, HGH soon became known more for its ability to postpone Father Time, although for the entire body rather than just its crotch. So Stallone is probably right: It won't be long before you see HGH commercials during the Super Bowl.
Plus, the arguments against HGH are the usual ones: It's dangerous, it can kill you, it doesn't work and so on. And while these are certainly valid medical and physical arguments against its proliferating popularity, the same thing can be said about substances already legal and vigorously defended, from alcohol to caffeine to trans-fats and all the way to carbon dioxide. In the end, what you're left with in the fight over HGH is a cultural standoff over ethics regarding freedom, regulation, health and permissive social attitudes. And we know how those standoffs tend to end.
Stallone admittedly used HGH to turn back the clock, if only to create a couple more Rambo and Rocky flops. "Testosterone to me is so important for a sense of well-being when you get older," he told Time. "Everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate it because it increases the quality of your life."
And even though Clemens has unequivocally dismissed usage, no one can dismiss the stunning late-career stats he put up while allegedly on the juice. His agent Randy Hendricks gave it the old college try, releasing an analysis of the Rocket's questionable numbers that found nothing to fret about. Just Roger being Roger, the extensive report basically argued. But he was met with a rejoinder from professors from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who analyzed the same data and found that "unusual factors may have been at play in producing his excellent late-career statistics." While other pitchers of the same age were faltering or shredding tendons, Clemens was increasing his efficiency and commanding crazy salaries for it. That was a statistical abnormality; whether or not it was because of drugs is beside the point.
That's because the point, as always, remains up to the public domain. As far as domain names are concerned, whoever owns RogerClemens.com has already made up his or her mind, as one look at the numerous search tags for HGH and steroids illustrates. I used to work at the original site, and it's I think he's full of it. Henry Waxman and the Mitchell Report seem to feel the same. But feelings are one thing, and stats are another. The stats only point to the story; our feelings determine the narrative. And that's where things get tricky.
"You cannot use his statistics to prove that he is innocent," Wharton professor Justin Wolfers argued in rebuttal to Hendricks' analysis. "It is not statistically possible. What they are doing is a good example of lying with statistics."
Lying is indeed the charge that Henry Waxman is trying to nail Clemens on, as there aren't really any hard and fast laws against buying, selling or even taking steroids, and even where there are, you'll have a hard time finding too many people serving time because of them. As such, the effort to decriminalize them has increased along with efforts to decriminalize other habits like cannabis, which straddles a similar fence along the medical and cultural divide. And even in HGH and its ilk aren't the anti-aging wonders that pop culture and marketers make them out to be, there will be others to fill the void, sooner than you probably think>.
The fear, not the drug, to mangle Shakespeare, is the thing.
It's the same fear that soma cured in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or dylar cured in Don DeLillo's equally prescient White Noise, which is to say, the fear of mortality. Substances like HGH and Viagra are escape hatches for those looking to achieve escape velocity from the trajectory of their lives, and whether that means making another franchise film or staying the franchise hotshot is, in the end, up to the user. Criminalization of any substance a culture can't historically kick just creates an even more lucrative alternative market, black market, hypermarket or whatever economists who continually trumpet the earnings reports of Big Pharma are calling it these days. The desire creates the drug which intensifies the desire and, in turn, erases the reality which existed before the drug.
And the drugs come and go, but the desire always remains.
Roger Clemens told Congress that he sated that unquenchable desire with a "great work ethic." Stallone, as stated earlier, currently gives his credit to "testosterone." Everyone has their crutch, to be fair. Everyone uses something to help them get where they want to go.
But, as with any growth industry, it is the numbers and the statistics that matter in the end. Recent studies have found that HGH use can perhaps increase the aging process, as well as enhance the risk of everything from cancer to carpal tunnel and swollen breasts. But swallow these numbers: Tens of thousands of users drop anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month for shots. That's a lot of box-office receipts, or butts in the seats, for either team in the game. In the end, it is those numbers that will determine whether or not Stallone is prophetic in his promise of over-the-counter growth hormone, or whether he's drunk on the juice. No pain, no capital gain.