HGH questions, tweets follow Manning to Super Bowl

Alan Truex

Updated from last week

Now that Peyton Manning is on to Santa Clara, Calif., for the Super Bowl, his fourth one, leave it to the New York tabloids to revive the issue of his or his wife’s use of human growth hormone.  The Daily News wrote of the coming two weeks of hype: “Maybe someone will interrupt the Manning lovefest to revisit the HGH story which miraculously died a quick and painless death.”

Throughout his 18-year career in the National Football League, Manning has been remarkably free of personal scandal.  But over the past three weeks he’s contended with charges that he used the controversial human growth hormone to speed his recovery from four neck surgeries in 2011.

Perhaps more troubling to him, his wife of 15 years, Ashley, joins him in the controversy.  Twitter is buzzing with fake news.  Avin Das@Jimmysparkles: “Ashley Manning got a shipment of HGH this week.”

Until recently, Peyton’s family — Ashley and their 4-year-old twins, a boy named Marshall and a girl named Mosley — have been effectively shielded from the spotlight.

But Ashley attracted attention when Al Jazeera America reported that she received shipments of HGH from the same clinic that was helping her husband recover from his neck and spinal injury.

Although banned in Major League Baseball since the 1990s, the NFL did not outlaw HGH until 2014.  Manning was breaking no rules if he did use the substance during the period Al Jazeera suggests.  But his reaction — overreaction? – has given the story legs – all the way to Santa Clara, where Super Bowl 50 will be played a week from Sunday.

Ashley Manning has not denied taking HGH, but Peyton has insisted he’s never used it.  “Any treatments my wife received,” he said, “that’s her business.  That has nothing to do with me.”

But it will have something to do with him next week, as he surely will be asked about it when the thousands of reporters converge on him.  He will tell them very little, as he always does.  But there will be stories about HGH no matter what he says or doesn’t say.

The NFL has announced it will investigate the matter, though probably not before the Super Bowl.

HGH has had an unsavory taint ever since New York Yankees star pitcher Andy Pettitte admitted he used it – to promote the healing of a sore arm.  The fact that HGH is now so scorned by the NFL makes for compelling irony when the Face of the Sport is questioned about it.

Charley Sly, who worked at Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, where Manning did his rehabilitation, appeared in front of Al Jazeera cameras to say he and the institution mailed HGH to Ashley Manning in Florida, that “it would never be under Peyton’s name; it would always be under her name.”

This brought comparisons to a ploy allegedly used by Roger Clemens, whose wife was said to be receiving shipments of substances that the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher was prohibited from using.

As the Manning story spread across all media, the Denver Broncos quarterback reacted with outrage.  Which of course prompted countercharges that he was protesting too much.  Which brought more life to the rumors.

Then the case against him seemed to fall apart when Sly retracted his story, saying his statements to Al Jazeera had been “absolutely false and incorrect.”

But that was not the end of it.  Al Jazeera fired back with claims that it had corroboration that Manning used HGH, even if Sly, for whatever reasons, was backing out of his position.  

Al Jazeera reporter Deborah Davies insisted that Sly’s recanting does not exonerate Manning from suspicion of using HGH, which is injected into the body, since it’s ineffective when administered orally.

Davies said on CNN’s Reliable Sources:  “We had a second source . . . impeccably placed.”

To which Manning’s hired spokesman, the former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer, retorted: “It doesn’t matter if Al Jazeera has one source or ten sources about Ashley.”

Last week the network lost still more of its credibility by deciding to shut down Al Jazeera America in April.  This seemed to be a case of retreating under fire.

The shutdown elicited this sarcastic comment from Manning:  “I’m sure that’s just devastating to all their viewers.”

That was a reference to the fact that the Arab-owned network has viewership that’s less than 10 percent of CNN’s.

The Manning/HGH story created a dilemma for mainstream journalism.  Is it fair to Manning to write about this at all?  Was CNN irresponsible in giving Davies her say? 

The very appearance on a show titled Reliable Sources suggests the source could in fact be reliable. 

Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame tight end and Super Bowl-winning coach who’s an analyst for ESPN, said, “Al Jazeera is not a credible news organization.  They’re out there spreading garbage.  That’s what they do.  Yet we give them credibility by talking about it.”

But if the issue here is credibility, you might second-guess Manning for hiring Fleischer, who as George W. Bush spin-meister was accused of making incorrect assessments of the Iraq war.

An argument can be made that HGH usage should not be controversial, that it’s not performance-enhancing and should not be banned.  It does not by itself raise testosterone levels, which is the object of steroid use in athletics.

But HGH, produced by the pituitary gland and also synthetically manufactured, can enhance muscle growth, which conceivably could have given Manning reason for using it.

If media interest in the subject intensifies, doubts may develop that he stopped using the substance when it was banned in 2014.   Which might explain why he would deny ever using HGH.   The story could add unwanted shade to his anticipated retirement after the Super Bowl.

Whatever Peyton Manning did, this usually detail-obsessed athlete did not exercise his usual care in preventing an awkward media moment.  If Ashley Manning needed HGH (promoted as an anti-aging elixir and sometimes used for blood-glucose control), it would have made more sense for her to visit a different clinic from that of her husband.  Florida has hundreds of these, some of which are probably reputable.

HGH, which is classified not as a government-regulated pharmaceutical but as a “food supplement” (Thank you, Sen. Hatch) is all too easily obtained from many “nutrition” stores and internet websites.  Contamination can be a problem, so the Mannings were wise to obtain it from legitimate medical sources.  He’s a good role model here.

But for a player who’s known for his searing focus, for avoiding controversies and distraction, the last thing Manning wants to be thinking about and talking about is his wife using human growth hormone.

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