MANKATO, Minn. -- So on Friday afternoon, in an impromptu round of questions with reporters, Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson denied in the strongest terms possible that he used HGH or any other banned substance to aid his recovery from major knee surgery last season. I tweeted the gist of his answers and the response was, well, aggressive.
"One thing I've learned last 15 years: Never believe a pro athlete in regard to PEDs. As a group, they've lost trust on topic," tweeted @KevinDCushing. @BillyBobGDFF wrote: "Good joke. No one comes back from ACL injuries and does what he did. There's some kind of PED there." And @robbymaxximus: "Even the guilty ones ask to be tested though, lol."
Like it or not, this is where our sports culture has landed. We all know that performance-enhancing drugs are in use. Peterson himself said he has no doubt that NFL players use HGH. As a result, many of us simply don't believe athletes who say they are "all natural," to quote what Peterson said Friday. It feels naïve to be anything other than skeptical.
If you were tempted to take what Peterson said Friday at face value, all you had to do was look at what was happening about five hours to the east of here -- at roughly the same time. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was lamenting his disappointment and shock that Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun lied to him about PED use.
That's why Peterson said he is so eager for the NFL and NFL Players Association to finalize a testing program for HGH -- to clear his name from rampant social media speculation while also punishing those who have used it because the league doesn't have a test yet.
"It will bring a lot of people to light," Peterson said. "It'll clear a lot of people, on the outside, their curiosity when it comes to different players. So I'm all-in for it. I don't worry about those types of supplements, using those, because I'm all natural. I work hard. This right here, it's a test for me personally, that I know that, 'Hey, I'm clean as a whistle,' and other guys as well. And then, like I say, it'll bring some guys to the forefront and be like, 'Hey, I guess this is how this guy's been performing so well.'"
As you know, Peterson returned to the Vikings' lineup 260 days after tearing two of the three major knee ligaments. He went on to have the second-best season by a running back in NFL history, totaling 2,097 yards, and won the league's MVP award. The performance was impossible to predict, and for many, difficult to believe.
Social media speculation was rampant. Peterson himself acknowledged seeing the @HGHPeterson handle on Twitter, which had 12 followers as of Friday afternoon. Grantland's Bill Simmons broached the subject in his widely read column.
To my knowledge, however, Peterson had never been asked directly about it in a public setting. To me, it's a difficult question to ask if the only "evidence" is an outstanding performance. It's an awfully slippery slope. Should we now ask every high-achieving athlete if he is clean?
The entrance into Friday's discsussion was the reported progress of HGH testing negotiations between the NFL and the players' association. It gave Peterson a chance to lead us down a road that we in the media were otherwise hesitant to take.
"To be honest with you," Peterson said, "I've been hoping they did this a long time ago, you know, evening out the playing field and make guys be honest and truthful to themselves. So I can't wait until they draw my blood."
It's sad but true. As Braun once again reminded us, the innocence is lost. We are now living in an era where players must declare themselves to be natural, must accept that many won't believe them and then hope that credible testing can be implemented to have any hope for a clean reputation.
Peterson said he doesn't care whether people believe him or not, but I think that quick answer was belied by his enthusiasm for testing.
"I'm true to myself," he said, "and I know I have a lot of respect for this game and the guys that came before, and the guys that did it the right way, and that's what I'm all about."
If and when the NFL begins HGH testing, we'll never be able to test the 2012 Adrian Peterson. Other than his word, we can never say for sure that he was clean during his MVP season. And from what I can tell, an athlete's word isn't getting him or her very far these days. Sad but true.