Julian Edelman Was Right to Use PEDs

The Patriots' receiver faced an uncertain future after a devstating injury. Who wouldn't do everything in their power to improve their chances of recovery?

Julian Edelman returned to the Patriots lineup last night after missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, as well as the first four games of 2018 after being suspended for testing positive for PEDs. Hauling in seven balls for 57 yards on nine targets, “Minitron” seemed to be largely back to his old form, which is itself an accomplishment given that he is a 32-year-old slot receiver whose game is predicated on explosive quickness in and out of his route breaks.

Watching him play last night and thinking about how much worse this could have turned out for Pats Nation and Edelman himself led me to a moderately surprising conclusion:

If I were Edelman, I would have taken those drugs too, and every other steroid I could get my hands on during the 2017 season.

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That statement requires a caveat. The substance Edelman was popped for was never publicly identified, and the man himself refutes any claims that he intentionally took a performance-enhancing drug. I’ve been around MMA for long enough to know that tainted supplements are a very real issue in drug testing, so it’s entirely possible that Jules never actually took anything.

That statement also requires the context of Edelman’s career, the culture around PEDs in football, and acknowledgement of exactly what they do to your body.

Julian Edelman has been a borderline Pro Bowl-type slot receiver since his first 1000-yard campaign in 2013. Every year after, he has either hit 1000 yards or been on pace to reach that mark before losing games to injury, which are an inevitable consequence of making your living going over the middle of the defence, one of the few places that defensive players can still levy devastating shots without penalty.

Despite this productivity, Edelman has never been compensated like one would imagine Tom Brady’s favourite target should be. His highest earning season netted him $7,857,843, which was ironically the 2017 season spent on injured reserve. It’s not chump change by normal human standards, but in NFL terms, it’s not a salary befitting of his proven value and production. This gap is largely due to Edelman spending his entire career thus far with the Patriots. Bill Belichick is notoriously unwilling to pay receivers, but while most other high-end pass catchers either left via free agency or were traded, Edelman’s loyalty to Tom Brady has prompted him to stay in New England while accepting massive pay cuts in comparison to his market value.

Fast forward to 2017. Edelman obliterates his ACL in training camp and is out for the season. Even in 2018, returns from ACL surgery by players north of 30 are precarious at best. For a player like Edelman, whose style of play is predicated on a combination of speed and quickness, anything less than a full recovery could easily spell the end of his career, and any hope of one last big(ish) contract.

So let’s talk about PEDs.

There are a lot of misconceptions in the common understanding of things like anabolic steroids, HGH, and EPO. They’re not magic pills where you just take them every day and become superhuman. The general consensus is that PEDs largely function by accelerating the body’s healing process in relation to the micro tears that working out generates in their muscles, allowing athletes to train harder and longer, leading to greater gains.

If an athlete is rehabbing a more serious injury, these substances have the dual effect of accelerating the general healing process while allowing them to rehab harder and more frequently.

It’s plainly obvious what was going on in the Edelman case, if anything. This was not an instance of an athlete trying to gain a competitive advantage on the field of play. If Edelman was actively taking steroids during training camp, there probably would have been enough in his system for the NFL to actually identify what he took.

This was Edelman trying to gain a personal advantage by doing everything he could to make sure he had the best possible odds of making a full recovery so they could return to their career of being professional destroyed over the middle.

The cost-benefit analysis is laughable. If you use PEDs in your injury recovery, you give yourself the best possible chance of being the same player post-injury as you were beforehand. If you don’t, you’re increasing the risk of career-altering, if not life-altering, limitations to your physical abilities.

If you get caught, the NFL assesses a four-game suspension, and your name gets published everywhere in connection with PEDs. That sounds stiff on paper, but there’s a dirty little secret in football that only the keenest of sports minds may have noticed.

Nobody cares about PEDs in football.

Seriously. Nobody cares. Antonio Gates tested positive for PEDs in 2015. He said he was sorry, and everyone forgot about it the moment he came back and caught his 100th career touchdown. He could have been using PEDs to extend his career for years, but the entire league forgot about it instantly.

Watching Julian Edelman look like the same Minitron as ever last night got me thinking about all the careers that were changed, shortened, or lost due to injury over the history of sports, and what some kind of regulated use of steroids could have done to preserve some of the all-time greats.

Would players like Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Terrell Davis, Michael Irvin, or Larry Bird have had more great moments left to give us had they been allowed a 10-week cycle in the offseason the aid in their recovery? We’ll never know whose answers, but even if the stigma of PED use doesn’t stick to Julian Edelman, it might be doing even more damage to the careers of players who never thought to give themselves the best chance to bounce back.

Riley Evans
Riley Evans
Riley Evans is the Multimedia Editor for Grandstand Central, where he writes about athlete mental health, identity politics and how they interact with the world of sports.


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