Posted by: mdegeorge | January 21, 2011

Weekly Diagnosis: January 21

It’s been a full week to report on, so much so that I just CAN’T WAIT to get into the diagnosis. So without further adieu, here’s the recap of a week that involved Lance Armstrong denials, deer medicine trials, and a borderline epidemic in the Northwest.

Photo courtesy of

Bringing Portland to its knees

The emergence of Wesley Matthews as a bona fide stud or the sudden resurgence of the Portland Trailblazers into the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference are all legitimate contenders for the team’s story of the year to this juncture.

But perhaps the biggest theme in Blazer land is the frequency with which Portland’s players are going under the knife for knee injuries.

The latest player to drop to the injured list like a bird from the Arkansas sky is forward Marcus Camby, who will need to undergo arthroscopic surgery in the coming days for a partial tear of the meniscus in his left knee. The timetable for the 15-year veteran’s return isn’t yet known.

Instead of making Camby the oddity, fresh scars on his knees make him just one of the guys on the Ail-Blazers. They’ve already lost starters Greg Oden (second microfracture surgery in three years) and Brandon Roy (scopes on both knees) for extended periods, Oden for the season. One of Camby’s potential replacements, Jeff Pendergraph, saw his season end before it began with a preseason knee injury. Rookie guard Elliott Williams joined him in the ER undergoing procedures on both knees. And one of the players filling the void of playing time left by Camby is Joel Przybilla, who has been back from a ruptured patella less than a month. It’s like a All-Surgery All-Star team.

The hints of the Jail-Blazers legacy are gone, but you have to wonder if this theme is worse. You also have to think head coach Nate McMillan is wrapping LaMarcus Aldridge in bubble-wrap as soon as he steps off the court every night.

As the Lance world turns

ESPN’s Shaun Assael had his shovel out this week, digging up enough dirt to unearth never before seen financial details of Lance Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team.

The earth-shattering conclusion gleaned from these documents: USPS spent a lot of money on Lance. $31 million, to be exact.

But that’s about all it told us. One unnamed cycling insider told Assael the figures were, “very significant, and not standard, but also not unheard of for a top-flight team.” Any hopes that these documents would somehow implicate Armstrong and his team in the kind of systematic doping alleged by disgraced former teammate Floyd Landis were soundly dashed. The most damming critique of the finances came in a 2003 audit in which the organization was chided for “ineffectively” managing its payments for extras such as bonuses and rider perks.

The long-standing push to gain access to full financials from the team, rather than the heavily-redacted bare-minimum version released earlier, is part of an effort to ascertain if government funds were misused for things such as doping materials or cover-ups.

I guess Landis and company were hoping there would be a line-item in the annual budget for syringes or EPO that would clearly incriminate Lance and his teammates (Guess he’s not as dumb as Paul LoDuca!) Instead, it’s just another chapter in this ongoing saga that involves breaking news that we read and then go, “uh, yeah, so?”

Heads-up to the future

Last week’s Diagnosis featured a plan to improve diagnostics in football collisions using on-board accelerometers in helmets to finally grasp just what hitter and hittee are experiencing on the field.

This week’s development took things a step further by providing photos of the new Bulwark model, a fitting balance between functionality and aesthetics that earned an all-important seal of approval from UniWatch’s Paul Lukas. The new headgear is a bit more bulbous than earlier models, but it’s hardly as cartoonish as other attempts at increased safety (right David Wright?) The top view (Image 3 in the gallery) is a deviation from the smoother look we’re used to, but it’s a small price to pay for increased safety.

Like a deer in headlines

The NFL’s anti-doping efforts truned to a different target this week, eschewing anabolic steroids, synthetic testosterone, and human growth hormone to clamp down on use of…deer antler?

The league’s crackdown was inspired by the sponsorship of a deer antler-containing product by new Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, who supplied players on the Baltimore Ravens when he was an assistant coach there with products from a company called Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS). Jackson has since ended his sponsorship with the company, largely at the behest of the league. The supplement, which has long been a staple in Oriental remedies for the treatment of a litany of symptoms, is banned by the league.

The substance derives from deer velvet, the nutrient rich outer coating of antlers which helps foster rapid growth in the ornaments early in the breeding season and is shed at the end. The discarded antlers are harvested and processed into either powdered caplet or liquid extract form for human consumption. The ingredients of the cartillagenous velvet include such important substances as N-acetyl-glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and immune system-boosting prostaglandins.

The big culprit in the deer antler though is insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. The enzyme is important in a number of signalling pathways, including ones that include human growth hormone (HGH), and is one of a class of chemicals whose relative concentrations are tied to growth and senescence patterns in human development. It runs afoul of the rules for legal athletic substances because of its aiding in wound healing and tissue repair, reducing recovery time from athletic training.

The deer antler debate (a phrase I never thought I’d piece together) brings up the issue of the rather nebulous line between vitamin and drug. In the simplest of senses, you could argue the immune-supplementing powers of Vitamin C “enhance performance”, and abuse or ingestion of excess quantities could certainly be dangerous. Even so, it’s unlikely anyone will get a 50-game suspension for it or face federal subpoena because of connections to alleged Tropicana dealers. The countless millions of people who have used deer antler as a homemade panacea for the last two millennia probably see nothing illicit about it, as some of the miracle cures attributed to the substance, ranging from alleviation of symptoms of multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis, in this article attest.



  1. […] way, I wrote in January about the efforts of the NFL to ban the use of supplements derived from deer velvet spurred by a […]

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