NFL

Peyton Manning’s Steroid Scandal Still Makes Some Fans Uncomfortable

Peyton Manning retired as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. During his career, he was championed for his encyclopedic knowledge of the game as well as his incredible work ethic. His nickname was “The Sheriff” and fans saw him as being the quintessential leader on the field. 

There was one point after his career was over, however, when accusations of steroid use cast doubt on the veracity of his greatness. Let’s take a closer look at that those accusations and what ended up happening as a result of them.

Peyton Manning career overview

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Manning set multiple records during his storied career. After a successful college football career playing for the University of Tennessee, the Indianapolis Colts made him the number one overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.

Speculation at the time revolved around the Colts possibly selecting Manning or Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. It’s one of the great “what ifs” in sports history. Manning went on to have one of the all-time great careers while Leaf was one of the all-time biggest busts in draft history playing for the San Diego Chargers. 

Manning won one Super Bowl in Indianapolis and turned the franchise into a perennial contender. He suffered a near career-ending neck injury and missed the 2010-2011 season. The Colts bottomed out and earned the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

The team released Manning and selected quarterback Andrew Luck. Manning rebounded strongly from his injury, playing at a high level for the Denver Broncos for several seasons after it appeared he was done. He even led the team to a Super Bowl win. 

The steroid accusations levied against Peyton Manning

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According to Sports Illustrated, the news outlet Al Jazeera published a feature on sports doping in late 2015. The report revealed that a one-time employee of an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic known as the Guyer Institute, Charlie Sly, said he had given Manning human growth hormone (HGH) in 2011. Sly was unaware that his confession was recorded and took back the claim later after it came to light. 

HGH became a household name among performance-enhancing drugs when many baseball players were suspected (and proven) to be using it in the late ’90s and early-to-mid 2000s. Without confirming or condemning the results of the investigation, it would make sense for a player of Manning’s age and injury profile to seek the advantage of HGH. 

The fallout of the steroid accusations

Peyton Manning walking off the field after a Colts loss
Peyton Manning hanging his head after a loss | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

SI reported that the NFL conducted its own investigation into the report and found no evidence of wrongdoing on Peyton Manning’s part. The report and ensuing investigation had some doubts cast on it, however, due to the following aspects pointed out by SI.

Several important players in the initial investigation (the reporter, investigator, Sly himself, and other Guyer Institute employees) might have not been questioned by the NFL. They had no obligation to respond to the NFL’s investigation as they are not league employees. 

It’s also unclear if the NFL spoke to them or even made an attempt to — their follow-up investigation made a reference to witnesses they spoke with but did not reveal the witness names. 

Manning was retired at the time of the report, so it’s unclear if he even participated in the follow-up investigation. He certainly was under no obligation to as he was no longer an NFL player or team employee. 

So who to believe: the initial report or the NFL’s exoneration of Manning? The facts are that Manning was able to play well after an injury that would have sidelined many well past the age most players retire. There’s also a large degree of uncertainty around the NFL’s follow-up report.

Ultimately, fans should read both the report and the NFL’s investigation results and come to their own conclusions.