In 2014, after years of negotiation between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, an HGH testing program has been launched. In Tyler Dunne's story, he clarified the hard truth about why the program would ultimately be needed, and why the sport of cycling has been going to great lengths since 2007 to administer its doping policy:
If testing were implemented, there could be serious collateral damage. The league's image is at stake 24/7. More than 108.4 million people were estimated to have watched the Super Bowl between Baltimore and San Francisco. If HGH testing is instituted and stars begin to test positive that popularity could take a hit.
Read all of Dunne's story, including the incentives propelling the use of steroids and HGH in the NFL and you get some clarity. Players are under immense pressure to be big, fast, strong, week-after-week in a 16-game season where every game is like demolition derby of bodily destruction, where million-dollar contracts are at stake and the average length of a pro career is a meager three years.
Perhaps that's why the NFL's HGH testing program has been criticized as being an exceptionally weak protocol. It may be just for PR as opposed to actually accomplishing any meaningful change.
For sports fans that are morally aghast and filled with social media venom—like the kind directed at Lance Armstrong—because they discover professional athletes will use whatever they can get away with to survive and thrive in a professional sport, here are some questions for self-reflection:
How much physical sacrifice do you feel it is fair to expect from an extreme contest like an NFL game or 21-day bike race overwrought with crashes and high-speed mountain descents?
In the Tour de France, the doping culture of the event dates back to the first race, in 1903, when riders used cocaine. That was 68 years before Armstrong was born. It's fair to conclude that the governing bodies of the sport failed to regulate EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs both before the Armstrong era and after it. It had to be one of two things: Either they didn't care, or they failed due to gross incompetency. In either case, why is Armstrong paying such a heavy price?
Dig through the history of steroids in the NFL, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and you'll find that not only did Super Bowl-winning lineman use steroids, even a quarterback relied on injections to achieve top performance.
"We did steroids to get away the aches and the speed of healing," former Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw told ESPN's Dan Patrick back in 2008. "My use of steroids from a doctor was to speed up injury, and thought nothing of it... It was to speed up the healing process, that was it. It wasn't to get bigger and stronger and faster."
In essence, that's why a Tour de France cyclist might want a fresh transfusion of blood or injection of EPO halfway through the TDF. The body gets hammered, the red blood cell count plummets along with the health of the immune system. Inflammation crawls upward, and what they do every morning is wake up and go back to a starting line for another torture-fest.
Bradshaw may have tried to characterize his use of steroids as being about recovery as opposed to performance, but that's not the deal. Fast recovery in a 16-game NFL season or a three-week 2,200-mile bike race translate to better performance over the long haul. It's one in the same.
But you don't see Terry Bradshaw being asked to give up his Super Bowl rings and not allowed to participate in a Masters swim meet, as Armstrong was. Or a triathlon or a Gran Fondo bike ride for charity—part of the assortment of prices Armstrong is continuing to pay even when he takes the time to answer a question and he watches the quote get manipulated out of context.
More: 16 Cool Cycling Tattoos
Ready to ride? Search for a cycling event.