This submission examines the controversy surrounding the experimental stem cell treatment undergone by the Indianapolis Colts’ star quarterback, Peyton Manning. Manning has been sidelined this season with a neck injury and it is an open question as to when he will return, casting the fate of the Colts––for years, a perennial Super Bowl contender––to the unknown. Having undergone several surgeries in the United States to repair the bulging disc, Manning recently flew to Europe to undergo stem cell treatment in the hopes of a quick return to the field of play. Manning’s decision to undergo this highly experimental treatment, which is not FDA approved, has sparked disapproval and debate both among fans and among doctors who question the validity and efficacy of the procedure, as well as Manning’s motives behind the decision. Being called “Peyton’s Hail Mary,” the treatment raises questions about the future of sports medicine, public medical opinion about stem cell research, and how public branding of athletes intersects with individual choice.
While Manning’s choice to use his own stem cells––which originate from the fat cells in his stomach––are less controversial than embryonic stem cell treatments, it threatens to destabilize Manning’s public image as the quintessential American man. It also raises questions about public emulation of the famous patient. While it seems unlikely that this procedure will soon become medical vogue, several doctors have expressed public concern that Manning’s decision may generate a mass appeal for stem cell treatments among individuals with similar conditions. “If it’s good enough for Peyton, what about me?” one medical reporter for ABC News is quoted as saying, implying that Manning’s influence has much wider ramifications beyond his own individual choice and extends to influence that of others.
This treatment also prompts questions about what constitutes doping and the appropriate place of experimental medicine in sports. Unlike EPO, where a patient’s highly oxygenated blood is transfused back into the body, this stem cell treatment has not been banned from professional or high level amateur sports competition. Will stem cell treatments be medically prohibited for creating an unfair advantage? What are the limits of using one’s own bodily substances in sporting contests, and how does this alter our conceptions of what constitutes fair play?