HGH, Human Growth Hormone, is a substance that has been popping up in professional sports with more and more regularity. While it’s banned by nearly every major sports organization and is illegal in the United States to use to enhance athletic performance, many athletes still try to use the substance to give them an edge over their competitors. While stories of players being banned from the NFL, the MLB, and the Olympic Games may receive the most media attention, one of the most interesting cases comes from the world of professional tennis. Back in 2010, professional tennis player Wayne Odesnik was banned from the sport for two years for his admission of possession of HGH, although he never did admit to using the substance himself. His ban was subsequently reduced when he helped Federal authorities with other investigations, including one which earned fellow tennis player Daniel Koellerer a lifetime ban from the sport. This had led to a huge hit on his reputation, even earning the title of ‘Most Hated Man in Tennis.’ But why all the fuss? Why has Wayne Odesnik suffered so much grief over the possession of HGH, and why is HGH such a pervasive issue in modern sports?
The fuss comes from HGH’s ability to affect both muscle strength and muscle growth in adults. It can give players an edge, much like anabolic steroids, but it is harder to detect as it is a naturally occurring hormone within our own bodies. Particularly during childhood and adolescence, this stuff is produced by the pituitary gland in enormous quantities, and some production continues to occur during adulthood. So testing for HGH is much more difficult than testing for synthesizes substances, and the general lack of visible side effects makes HGH doubly secretive (although there may be some internal side effects that are damaging). The advantages it can provide to an athlete are enough to create unfairness in any sport, and this is where the controversy sets it. HGH use provides an unlevel playing field, and although many players would take the risk and many more would argue that its use is safe so it should be allowed, HGH is still considered illegal.
Wayne Odesnik’s role in the HGH controversy is of particular interest because while he did possess the substance, he did not admit to its use. But moreover, in exchange for a reduced ban, he cooperated with Federal authorities to provide information that led to other player’s indictments. And this is what makes him so hated. Not only was Wayne Odesnik linked to HGH, and illegal substance, he turned snitch. Yes, many people in the sport are using this stuff, but turning in a fellow player was seen as a traitorous act. And this brought about his hatred as he tried to clear his own name and reduce his own ban by implicating other players. Say what you want about HGH and its use in sports, but this type of action against one’s own peer certainly isn’t going to win someone love and admiration.
So what should Wayne Odesnik have done? He had HGH, he probably used it (although he didn’t admit to it). Many other athletes are obviously using the substance as well, even though it is illegal. So was he right in helping to identify others using HGH, or wrong for turning someone in to better his own situation? The answer may not be clear, but what is clear is that HGH is common in sports today. Players use it. Coaches recommend it. And it’s a huge part of the professional landscape, even if it is illegal. And something’s got to change, whether that means more enforcement or acceptance and legalization. HGH can’t continue to go on as the untalked about, unnoticed drug on the scene, with everyone pretending it doesn’t exist and then acting shocked when it does. HGH is here, and we have to deal with it. We just have to figure out how.