A bombshell report by Al Jazeera’s Special Investigative Unit, “The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers,” alleges that Peyton Manning procured large quantities of human growth hormone in 2011. According to Al Jazeera, the drugs were shipped in his wife’s name during a period in which Manning was working to come back from a potentially career-ending neck injury the year before.
But for all the hoopla surrounding the great Peyton Manning’s legacy being potentially tarnished, what Al Jazeera demonstrates is that sports doping prohibition has and will continue to be a failure, a system that isn’t so much a deterrent as it is a cash cow for an entire shadowy network of ethically challenged doctors, pharmacists, and various fixers.
In the report, Charles Sly, a pharmacist at an anti-aging center, the Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indiana, drops Manning’s name.
“Him [Manning] and his wife would come in after hours and get IVs and shit,” Sly is surreptitiously recorded telling Liam Collins, a former star British hurdler who agreed to work as an undercover reporter. “So one thing that Guyer does is he dispenses drugs out of his office, which physicians can do in the United States. It’s just not very many of them do it. And all the time we would be sending Ashley Manning drugs. Like growth hormone, all the time, everywhere, Florida. And it would never be under Peyton’s name. It would always be under her name.”
Unsurprisingly, Manning is livid. Saturday night, he went on the offensive, issuing a personal statement calling the report “complete garbage.”
“For the record, I have never used HGH,” Manning told ESPN Sunday morning. “It absolutely never happened. The whole thing is totally wrong. It’s such a fabrication, I’m not losing any sleep over it, that’s for sure… Disgusted is really how I feel, sickened by it. I'm trying to understand how someone can make something up about somebody, admit that he made it up, and yet somehow it gets published in a story.”
To wit, Sly is now recounting everything that he said on camera, though he’s alternately claimed that Collins manipulated him during a period in which he was grieving for his wife, and that he knowingly provided false information because he was “testing” Collins. The question of whether Sly was employed by the Guyer Institute is also in question, though Al Jazeera is standing by their story.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos have also chimed in, expounding on Manning’s virtuousness, calling the report “absurd” and stating emphatically that they “do not find this story to be credible.”
The refutations and denunciations don’t end there. The clinic’s founder, Dr. Dale Guyer, said he has “no reason to believe these allegations are based in fact or have any truth.” In Al Jazeera’s report, Manning’s unnamed agent says that his client “has never done what this person is suggesting.” He further explained that “The treatment he received at the Guyer Institute was provided on the advice of his physician and with the knowledge of team doctors and trainers ... Any medical treatment received by Ashley is a private matter of hers, her doctor, and her family.”
Of course, no one’s saying what Ashley Manning was sent or has specifically denied that it might be HGH. As Al Jazeera’s report outlines, if that is the case, it makes zero sense that she’d seek out an anti-aging clinic like Guyer, given that HGH can only legally be prescribed to treat growth hormone deficiency, short bowel syndrome, or HIV wasting.
Which brings us to Team Manning’s latest addition, George W. Bush’s former press secretary-turned sports crisis management whisperer Ari Fleischer. If you were inclined to think Manning has been getting some kind of chemical assistance, this hire probably won’t change your mind. Here’s Fleischer’s initial salvo to the Denver Post: “There’s no truth to it. What they have is a well-known con man from England who secretly recorded a former intern,” he said.
He also grabbed the ear of the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport to add that Manning has “has never used HGH, never failed any league drug tests.”
The latter may be true, but it’s utterly irrelevant. Though the NFL banned HGH in 1991, an agreement between the league and the NFLPA to implement a system didn’t arrive until 2011, and the actual tests didn’t commence until 2014, largely due to the NFLPA’s resistance. That is to say, unless Manning continued to take HGH long after he (or his wife) stopped being treated at the Guyer Institute, he couldn’t have passed an HGH test because there were no tests to pass.
Furthermore, as VICE Sports’ Matt Chaney wrote, the NFL’s current test for HGH is pretty much “useless” given that players receive 24 hours notice—more than enough time to get clean.
The decision to bring in Fleischer at all should send eyebrows scurrying north. As SB Nation’s Rodger Sherman noted, his track record as a rehabilitator of athletes’ public image is spotty at best, and “if you're a sports figure and you hire Ari Fleischer, people will talk about the fact that you’ve hired Ari Fleischer, and remember his history of propagating convenient story lines.”
But Manning’s guilt or innocence isn’t the point, really. The point is that over the course of the eight-month investigation, Collins and Al Jazeera managed to procure a cardboard box crammed with enough illegal substances to seriously alter the outcome of the next Super Bowl. You know, assuming that a still-unknown percentage of those on the rosters of this year’s title contenders don’t have a similar stash tucked away already.
Even if Sly is lying about Manning (and Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Howard, Mike Tyson, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, and all the other pros he claims he supplied with a slew of different PEDs), at one point he hands Collins a loaded syringe filled with Delta 2. One actual client of Sly’s, Taylor Teagarden, talks openly on camera with Collins about the positive impact Sly’s products have had on his career.
And despite the various professional sports leagues’ bleating about fairness and their utter commitment to hunt down these mendacious cheaters, it’s really not all that hard to avoid getting pinched.
As Eddie Dominguez, the former investigator for Major League Baseball, explains, “As long as they know what the testing procedure is, you’ll always be able to beat it.”
Or you can take the word of Chad Robertson, a Vancouver-based pharmacist who introduced Collins to Sly and promises, “I can take a guy with average genetics, and I can make him a world champion.”
“No one’s got caught, because the system’s so easy to beat,” Robertson says. “And it still is; that’s the sad fact.”
They’re able to beat the testers and the tests because as long as there’s a huge financial incentive, someone will figure out a way to dodge, subvert, or outwit those that are enforcing the rules.
As for said regulations, the line keeps shifting. Baseball turned a blind eye to Barry Bonds’s expanding hat size, and amphetamines were poured into a special pot of “Player’s Coffee” until it became unfashionable to ignore it. The NFL doled out painkillers like candy, to the point that a slew of ex pros sued the league, claiming that the powers that be “intentionally peddled them to players without any regard for their safety or long-term wellbeing.” Performance-enhancing substances have been a part of sports for over a century, and punishment is only levied when it stops being profitable.
You want to solve the problem? Legalize it, regulate it, and use the best science to determine which substances have long-term health impacts. Because it’s never, ever going away, no matter how invasive the testing procedures.
“The Dark Side” can be seen in its entirety here.