Throughout his 18-year career in the National Football League, Peyton Manning has been remarkably free of personal scandal. But over the past two weeks he’s contended with charges that he used the controversial human growth hormone to speed his recovery from four neck surgeries in 2011.
Although banned in Major League Baseball since the 1990s, the NFL did not outlaw HGH until 2014. So Manning was breaking no rules if he did use the substance, as Al-Jazeera America contended he did.
However, 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 gets connected to 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 Manning’s wife Ashley 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 a recipient 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, vehemently denying he’s ever used HGH.
Which of course prompted countercharges that he was protesting too much and thereby giving 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 when it revealed it was planning to shut down Al-Jazeera America in April. This seemed to be a case of retreat 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 have to wonder about Manning’s hiring of Fleischer, George W. Busch’s spin-meister who was accused of making incorrect assessments of the Iran war. Not saying Fleischer is Baghdad Bob, but couldn’t Manning, smart as he is, have found a spokesman with a better reputation for candor?
An argument can be made that HGH usage should not even 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.
Whatever Peyton Manning did, this usually detail-obsessed athlete did not exercise much care in preventing the story from developing to the extent that it did. If Ashley Manning needed HGH (promoted as an anti-aging supplement 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.
HGH, which, absurdly enough, is classified not as a government-regulated drug but as a “food supplement,” 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.
Ashley Manning has not denied taking HGH, but Peyton Manning 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.”
Maybe not. But the Mannings made it too easy to connect the dots.