How can Manning, Brady be careful with image, yet clumsy elsewhere?

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They are two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, both so famous that their names and numbers are iconic, both used to dealing with public pressure none of us can imagine.

And in the past month, both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (again) have been tied to health gurus with checkered pasts.

Manning has visited the anti-aging clinic of Dale Guyer, who has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens imposed by the IRS, according to the Indianapolis Star. He was also named in a federal indictment, and alleged to have received illegal human-growth hormone in 2007. Brady has partnered with a man named Alex Guerrero, who has been sanctioned by the Federal Trade Commission and has "a record of legal trouble longer than Brady’s career,"

according to the Boston Globe.

(AP)
(AP)

It’s not just them involved, either; Manning says the Indianapolis Colts were aware of his visits to Guyer’s clinic, and supported him. The New England Patriots have set aside a room at Gillette Stadium for Guerrero to treat players away from the regular medical staff.

"I have a tremendous belief in Alex and what he has accomplished with me," Brady told WEEI in October. "In the 10 or 11 years we’ve been working together, he has never been wrong."

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There is no evidence that either Manning or Brady have done anything untoward, and Manning strenuously denied having obtained or used performance-enhancing drugs after a former Guyer pharmacist told Al Jazeera on tape that HGH had been sent to Manning’s wife. (The pharmacist, Charles Sly, recanted his own words.) Still, the relationships are now publicly known and they open the door to scrutiny that all famous athletes religiously avoid.

Guyer's company website, which has been so overrun this week that it crashed for a time, offers at least one curious product. His institute sells DHEA under his own company label, which is legal but banned by WADA. "It changes the steroid metabolism profile," says John Travis, senior research scientist at the National Science Foundation. "The body’s enzymatic systems can change DHEA into testosterone."

A lot of the skepticism of Manning this week is because of other athletes' ties that were more troubling: Barry Bonds with Victor Conte, Tiger Woods with Anthony Galea; Alex Rodriguez with Anthony Bosch. Why do famous athletes, so careful about their interactions and public image, trust these people for advice and care?

Some of it is the nature of society; some of it is the nature of the athlete.

“All of us in some way, shape or form are constantly being sold that there is an easier, softer way,” says Jimmy Stewart, a former NFL player and now a counselor for student-athletes at Colorado State. “If we have bought that premise then selling the actual ‘magic bullet’ is easy because now you have people who want that special something. Athletes have that extra incentive to not just want but need that magic elixir based on competition.”

Athletes, from the time they are very young, are asked to trust: trust the coach, trust the trainer, trust the agent, trust the teammate. They are also taught, like the rest of us, that someone somewhere is always working a little harder and doing a little more. And when margin for error is so slim in elite sports, a so-called expert who can add a slight advantage is very convenient to believe.

Athletes rail against the idea that they would “cut corners,” but it’s really not about that. The hardest workers in sports (or any field) are so dedicated that they will do anything to be at the top of their games. They aren’t trying to do less; they’re trying to do more.

They do not, however, do the required vigorous vetting. Does anyone? A relationship is forged and the athlete relies on whether that person has been good to them. And of course that expert has every reason to be good to a famous athlete. Then the expert has a huge marketing advantage: a business relationship with an athlete that everyone trusts.

And the athlete is naturally inclined to believe a particular treatment works. The placebo effect is real, and the best athletes fully expect things to work out; that’s part of what makes them the best athletes. When the treatment shows results, whether real or perceived, the athlete starts to rely on the help as part of the routine they all cling to.

This tendency among athletes doesn’t have to be sinister. Remember the Power Balance craze? The makers of the bracelets faced a fraud lawsuit in 2011 and were forced to admit there was no scientific proof behind their claims. Years later, Drew Brees is still prominently pictured on the site. The implication is that Brees was never better than after he started using Power Balance.

Implication doesn’t mean anything in most cases, and it certainly doesn’t in Manning and Brady’s cases. But it’s certainly something these legends could live without.

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