Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Doping on Deer Antler

Ever since the release of his book Juiced, The Konformist has been a champion of Jose Canseco’s tales of steroids in baseball, tales that have been proven to be pretty much 100 percent correct. The interest we've had on the issues of steroids was based on one assumption: that steroids are not only dangerous to the athletes who take them, they create a climate where other athletes are pressured to take steroids to remain competitive, thus risking the health of others. Certainly this is the case in the two cryptosports of bodybuilding and professional wrestling: it is alleged that Vince McMahon pressured wrestlers to roid up under fear of economic punishment.

There is another view on the issue of PEDs (performance enhanced drugs) that isn't commonly presented and isn't politically correct, but has its advocates. That view is athletes are adults, they control their own bodies, and they should be allowed to put whatever they want into them. If others feel pressured to take PEDs to compete, that's their problem, athletic competition is tough business.

Given the general political bent of The Konformist, such a view should have been given more support than it has in the past. And it appears there is a surprisingly high percentage of the public that agrees with it. Indeed, there seems to be some acceptance of doping in the NFL by the public. Perhaps that is because, considering the violent state of professional football, the feigned concerned over the dangers of PEDs by NFL officials seems as unconvincing and hypocritical as their supposed sudden passion over violent hits. In any case, now that the shock of the Steroid Era of baseball has worn off, perhaps it is time to take seriously what may turn out to be not only the natural evolution of the debate, but the more mature viewpoint: athletes dope up, deal with it.

A recent news story gives some strong support for this viewpoint: the shocking revelations that many NFL players (including future first ballot Hall of Famer Ray Lewis) have been breaking the NFL drug testing rules by taking a supplement that contains deer antler. The story was broken January 19th by Yahoo-owned, but there's a pretty good chance that even the most obsessed sports fan missed this report. For once, the most cynical explanation isn't the truth: the story wasn't buried by the korporate sports media over profits during the NFL's gold rush to the Super Bowl. The real reason the story has been underreported is because nobody really cares.

The lack of concern over the deer antler non-scandal is due to the fact users were not attempting to break NFL doping rules. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: the usage of “The Ultimate Spray” was inspired by attempts to avoid taking steroids and other illegal muscle builders. The maker of the antler spray even named itself Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.) emphasizing this concept. Their spray is not only 100% legal in the USA, it requires no doctor's prescription. When interviewed by, Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams seemed unaware of any drug violations involved with the product. When asked, Williams bluntly declared: “I use the spray all the time. Two to three times a day. My body felt good after using it. I did feel a difference.”

Unfortunately, deer antler contains IGF-1, a protein similar to HGH, and it's listed as a banned substance by both the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the NFL. This despite noting: "Deer velvet antler has been a staple of Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and is known in Eastern cultures for improving everything from overall health to sleep to athletic performance to sexual energy..." Mitch Ross, owner of S.W.A.T.S., declared: “It’s not synthetic. You have to understand it’s coming from a God-made animal. No athlete has tested positive for IGF-1 from my spray.”

(Ross' claim of no positive drug tests caused by their spray is in dispute. David Vobora, a St. Louis Rams linebacker who failed a 2009 test, alleges "The Ultimate Spray" is the true culprit in a lawsuit. While claims of doping violations caused by OTC supplements should be met with the skepticism that "My dog ate my homework" induces, it certainly seems like a plausible explanation in this case.)

The response of the WADA is dismissive of this defense. Jonathan Danaceau, director of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Lab, pronounced the establishment line: “It’s considered performance-enhancing. It’s similar to HGH in that it aids in recovery. It helps build tissue, and strengthen tissue – more than you can ever do by training alone. Any preparation that is not naturally occurring is banned. Taking IGF-1 through deer antler is banned as well.”

So both sides are in complete agreement: deer antler is a powerful supplement for athletic training. even cites a study that provides ample evidence on how powerful it is:

The author of the study, Craig Broeder, former head of the Exercise Science program at East Tennessee State University, said it is under review by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Broeder tested the effects of velvet antler supplements on aerobic, anaerobic, and strength performance. He included 32 men who had a history of at least four years of strength training. Subjects were divided into two groups in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study where they performed high intensity resistance training over 10 weeks. Half of the subjects were given 3,000mg of deer antler per day, with the other half receiving a sugar pill.

The results of the study showed several health benefits, including a reduction of body fat, an increase in body strength relative to body weight, and improvements in aerobic capacity. Most surprisingly, Broeder said, the athletes improved their cardiovascular performance without doing any cardiovascular activity.

“These aren’t the guys that want to get up on the treadmill and run,” Broeder said. “They’re big guys. Yet, they significantly increased their aerobic capacity on deer antler velvet.”

This isn't a completely new story: before they became baseball pariahs, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both admitted to taking the then OTC steroid-like supplement androstenedione, a controversy that was a mere blip in 1998's summer of baseball love. What is unusual about the deer antler controversy is that WADA doesn't even try to argue (as was done with andro) it's a dangerous substance, instead that being a performance enhancer is bad enough, with or without any negative effects.

That being the case, it appears a cynical view to the sports doping hysteria is pretty accurate, that the goal is really to control athletes with threats and punishment, rather than to protect them. The fact that all drug-testing policies have pretty much been brought from the top down rather than initiated by the athletes themselves is consistent with that view.

Should athletes be allowed to dope their bodies however they want? Or perhaps should they be allowed to use without punishment any drug or supplement that is OTC, with federally regulated drugs okay under a doctor's supervision? As politically correct as it is to point out, there are many benefits to the usage of steroids, HGH and other PEDs in controlled doses, which is why they continue to have legal legitimate uses. Certainly abuses will continue, but there's nothing new here. At least with a doctor who has a license to lose there would be some form of accountability. Again, bodybuilding and pro wrestling make strong cases against laissez-faire athletic drug policies, but perhaps it is time to at least include such views in the frame of the debate.

NFL Orders Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson To End Ties With Company Linked To Banned Substance
Wednesday, January 19 2011
Eric Adelson

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