We've seen every type of performance enhancing drug at all levels of sport by now. From carefully crafted chemicals created in highly sophisticated laboratories to elements found in nature, athletes have used anything to get ahead. But the latest, brought to light by Yahoo! reporter Dan Wetzel, borders on weird while also showing the level of craftiness some athletes will undertake to get ahead.
This time, it's not a pharmaceutical or injectable; it's deer antlers. No, the players don't wear them: an extract from velvet antlers is bottled and used as a spray. It contains a similar chemical makeup to human growth hormone (HGH) and is said to decrease the time it takes to heal from injuries and other ailments (via Wetzel at Yahoo!)
For the elite athlete, experts say it's essentially a human growth hormone, one of the substances organized sports is trying to keep out. The difference here is deer antlers are natural, not synthetic, and properly discovering it in a test falls somewhere between extremely challenging to virtually impossible.
In Wetzel's article, Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams says he used the spray "two or three times a day." He champions its effects, saying he felt better after using it and that it made a difference. One company that ships the drug readily admits it ships the product to NFL players and allegedly has been linked to assistant coaches in the league.
The problem boils down to athletes trying to stay ahead of the curve and prolong their careers. Football is a punishing sport, with athletes' bodies enduring an immense amount of stress during the rigors of a season. Add in any injury, and these players see their livelihood put at stake.
That's where this deer antler extract comes in. It's "natural," in that it's not technically manufactured in a lab and created using a bunch of chemical compounds, though there is a process to extracting and producing the substance in question. It's also, most importantly, undetectable through urine tests and difficult to detect in a blood test: one has to be tested in a certain time frame to find it.
With blood tests unlikely to be added into the next collective bargaining agreement, along with the high costs associated with them preventing widespread testing, it's almost a certainty players will be able to continue using the extract for the foreseeable future while avoiding detection.
Is it immoral? Yes. Is it illegal? Certainly. Will it stop players from looking for an edge and a way to prolong their careers? Not at all. And therein lies the problem. With a career predicated on pushing the body its limits over a lengthy amount of time, it's almost hard to fault an athlete for seeking out the fountain of youth.
Besides that, we've gotten to the point where deer antlers are on the cutting edge of performance enhancing drug advances. It's almost like a scene from a science fiction movie.