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In Our View / The myth of the 'superhuman' athlete


Football and painkillers

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Speaking of sports cheaters, and our "culture of violence," it's long past time football -- the NFL, the NCAA and fans -- faced up to its demons. And it's going to take more than a couple of sit-downs with Oprah.
As the Super Bowl approaches, Junior Seau's family became the latest to sue the NFL after it was found the former San Diego Chargers linebacker suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy when he committed suicide last year. The popular player was never once diagnosed with a concussion during his entire college or pro career.
For the sake of our human athletes, the myth of the "superhuman" must be dispelled. Brains are more fragile than knees, but no one wants to believe it. We want to believe helmets magically protect, even as they are used to spear an opposing player. And it's easy to believe, when we routinely see a player get hammered, and then miraculously jump up, ready to go. How is that possible? Football players generally are superior athletes, except for the overweight and out-of-shape ones, but that doesn't confer a special ability to shake off injuries and/or concussions.
In 2011, the NFL began testing for performance enhancing drugs such as steroids, human growth hormone, and amphetamines, such as the familiar Ritalin and Adderall.
But what about the fact that pro and college team doctors routinely give players painkillers during games so they can keep playing? Earlier this month, an ABC News investigation revealed that "despite stated label risks of possible fatal heart attack, stroke or organ failure, college football players across the country are still being given injections of a powerful painkiller on game days so they can play while injured."
Controversy over the drug, Toradol, has grown, ABC reported, following claims by former USC lineman Armond Armstead that he suffered a heart attack after the 2010 season, at age 20, following shots of generic Toradol administered over the course of the season by the team doctor and USC personnel. Armstead says he and many other USC players would receive injections before big games and again at half-time.
The drug is recommended for post-operative pain in hospitals but has increasingly been used in college and professional sports, ABC reported. Some schools have stopped using the drug. But not the practice of giving painkillers, it's assumed.
But the risk of a heart attack really can't be the only objection to the practice of shooting up athletes with painkillers, can it?
It's an extremely sick system, and players at all levels need real protection from the all-too-human forces that are willing to sacrifice their long-term health for short-term gain.

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