Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fighting The Latest "Performance Enhancers"

By The Common Man

Yesterday, we learned that George Brett and his company are being sued for making false medical claims about "Ionic Necklaces," which are similar to the Phiten necklaces that MLB players have been wearing since 2010. Brett's necklaces, according to Brett, "help customers relieve pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back, recover from sports fatigue and improve focus. The company has also falsely claimed its bracelets, which include two roller magnets, would relieve wrist, hand and elbow pain, the lawsuit said."

Phiten's product, meanwhile, supposedly "helps to promote stable energy flow throughout the body. The benefits of this are longer lasting energy, less fatigue, shortened recovery time and more relaxed muscles” using "aqua-titanium technology" according to the product description.

So, magnetism and metal dispersed in water. That's what these guys sell to athletes. In return, the products are supposed to boost athletic performance by helping move energy around, or promoting healing, or energizing your particles, or some such nonesense.

Here's The Common Man's question: Isn't that what Performance-Enhancing Drugs are supposed to do? Steroids and HGH are both ways for athletes to gain a competitive advantage on their opponents with the aid of technology and chemistry. Isn't this the same thing, except delivered in a fashion accessory rather than a needle?

The Common Man knows what you're going to say: "But TCM, these are ridiculous items. There's no way that they actually work. This is medical quackery at its finest."

To which, TCM will gladly say, you're absolutely right. There's no way that these actually work as advertised. They are part of a long tradition of elixirs, radium pills, vibrational energy, and more that "doctors" have used to con people out of their money with empty promises.

And yet, as study after study has shown, there is no evidence that steroid use leads to additional power in hitters, nor better performance in pitchers. And there's no evidence that PEDs have allowed players to actually heal faster and get back on the field sooner. For more information on this topic, by the way, this is the gold standard of websites on the effects of PEDs, but it will take you forever to get through it all.

There may be a psychological benefit to using "PE"Ds, but there's clearly once to using the necklaces as well. Otherwise players wouldn't wear them and stick by them. The players feel more confident with the necklaces on. When, then, they perform well, they attribute their improved performance to this ridiculous jewelry.

And even if there was an actual benefit to "PE"D use, and not to using the necklaces, the intent of the players using them is exactly the same. They are trying to augment their natural abilities. Perhaps it's not against the rules to wear these necklaces, like it is to use steroids, but the same principles apply.  After all, we don't give attempted murderers a pass just because they suck at killing people.

So why are these players not stigmatized? Because they're stupid or are dupes? What does that have to do with their motives and their behavior? Are they too stupid to tell right from wrong? Of course not, especially when you consider that the necklaces are actually worn by some of the smartest guys in the game, like CJ Wilson and Curtis Granderson.

All of this is not to excuse steroid or HGH use. Nor is it to condemn the fools who use these ridiculous products. All athletes seek a competitive edge. And many of them will go to any legal means to get it. Some of them will break the rules to do it. But the principle is the same. So if you're going to punish players for using then-legal substances that weren't banned by baseball until 2003, you need to similarly punish Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander because of their fashion choices. After all, what's really the difference?


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Heck, yeah. And cork in bats doesn't really work either. Great post.

Pat Adair said...

It really begs the question as to where we draw the line for "PEs." Don't batting gloves enhance performance? Lasik surgery? Hell, how many more HRs could Babe Ruth have hit if only he could take a B12 vitamin and a 5 hour energy after a night of binge drinking?

The Baseball Idiot said...

Until the ban cortisone shots, nothing else is important.

Being able to play without pain is much more important than healing faster.

With one, you don't need to worry about the other.

Vidor said...

"All of this is not to excuse steroid or HGH use."

Isn't it? It is self-evidently absurd to punish players for wearing silly necklaces. So if there's no difference between silly necklaces and performance enhancers, then we shouldn't punish players for performance enhancers.

Anonymous said...

The reason "PE"Ds are banned are because of the health consequences of using them. If say a 16-year-old decides his favorite ballplayer got better by using steroids, he may try them as well. And there are known health risks with using steroids and other "PE"Ds.

As for the necklaces and bracelets, they are essentially harmless, whether they work or not. That's the difference.

It's not so much the enhancement (otherwise pine tar, batting gloves and eye black would be banned) but the possible health effects.

The Common Man said...

The Common Man doesn't buy that for a minute. There are known health risks from using pain medication like cortisone too. And all we've heard for the past several years has been how the players using "PE"Ds are dirty cheaters who tried to get a competitive advantage over their honest and virtuous colleagues, and how they need to be punished for it. The "won't someone please think of the children" cause has long been eclipsed.

Vidor said...

I guess it doesn't need pointing out that putting the "PE" in PEDs in quotes is also an effort to excuse steroid and HGH use.

Not sure why the stathead community has decided to line up in defense of PEDs.

The Common Man said...

You're wrong, Vidor. The Common Man doesn't think steroids, or HGH use is a good thing. Quite the opposite. But, language is a powerful thing. And, based on the evidence we have, calling steroids and HGH and the like "performance enhancing drugs" is misleading, since we actually have zero evidence that they enhance baseball performance.

Hence, "performance enhancing" drugs, or "PE"Ds, to remind us that it's stupid to discount the accomplishments on the field of the players who used, even if we seek to punish their behavior off of it.

Vidor said...

"The Common Man doesn't think steroids, or HGH use is a good thing."

Why not? What I read on this blog, and in other stat-friendly places on the Internet, pretty much continually dismisses the notion that PEDs are a serious problem, and generally mocks those that think it is a serious problem. That's what we see in this post, which compared taking PEDs to wearing silly necklaces. So if there's no evidence that PEDs enhance performance, and we are so skeptical of that notion that we must place the "PE" part in scare quotes, and if PEDs are no different than things like Lasik surgery or batting gloves or cortisone--just what is wrong with them?

The Common Man said...

Then you're not reading correctly, Vidor. Of course there are profound differences between using a "silly necklace" and using steroids. There are undeniable health risks associated with "PE"D use, especially when that use is unsupervised by a doctor. "PE"Ds are against the rules, and they should be against the rules. And players who are caught using them should be suspended according to the rules.

But that doesn't mean that the accomplishments of the players who may be using them (or who may be suspected of using them without any proof) should be discounted or denied, when there's no evidence that they enhance performance. Nor should the users be demonized as monsters, even if they were and are in the wrong.