Nothing is more brutal when it comes to the bleeding edge of competitiveness than the NFL. In a game of inches anything you can do to be a little better than the competition is critical, and Chad Johnson shared the secret to his success on Tuesday.

Think back to every single time you saw Johnson play. Every catch. Each touchdown. Perhaps there are moments you’ll remember forever. He did them all with a raging boner. Call this discussion crass, but we need to have it. Did taking a pill to enhance Chad’s johnson really give him an edge on the field? Did one of the best receivers of the early 00s actually take performance enhancing drugs?

It’s important to understand exactly what erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra do to the human body in order to evaluate whether this is a something that could actually help in sports. Sildenafil (the generic name for Viagra and Revatio) works as a vasodilator, which in layman’s terms dilate the blood vessels to improve blood flow. For the purposes of erectile dysfunction it’s easy to see why this would be of importance, but there is evidence of athletes using Sildenafil, with the belief it would assist on the field.

In 2008 it was reported that Roger Clemens routinely took Viagra before games when he was a member of the Yankees. Victor Conte, central figure in the infamous BALCO scandal, said “all my athletes take it,” when probed. Conte called it one of the most important performance enhancing drugs available, and at the time Sildenafil was not banned by any major sporting league. In fact, as of the time of writing, Sildenafil is still not on the list of the NFL’s banned substances.

Your knee-jerk reaction (and honestly, mine as well) is to assume there’s no way erectile dysfunction drugs can actually help on the field, and if they did, then they’d surely be banned. However, there is evidence that Conte was correct, and that Sildenafil really does give athletes an unfair edge. A 2006 study found that Sildenafil vastly improved the aerobic output of athletes during acute hypoxia (the body being starved of oxygen). Researchers found that performance was drastically increased among cyclists who took Sildenafil at altitude, compared with those who didn’t. However, the study also showed that the drug had little effect when used in an environment where athletes had access to normal oxygen levels. This makes it difficult to know definitively whether or not the drug has an effect in an NFL environment, but we do know that football players are routinely subjected to oxygen deprivation during games, which is why oxygen masks are routinely round on NFL sidelines.

There is one reliable example we can use to determine if Johnson really gained an edge thanks for Viagra: Games played in Denver. Empower Field at Mile High is the highest elevation stadium in the NFL, sitting 5,280 feet above sea level. If Johnson were to excel anywhere because of his Viagra usage it’s here. Sadly, we only have two recorded games of Johnson playing at the stadium, but the results aren’t encouraging.

Chad Johnson performance at Mile High Stadium

. Avg. Receptions Avg. Yards Avg. Yards Per Catch Avg. Touchdowns
. Avg. Receptions Avg. Yards Avg. Yards Per Catch Avg. Touchdowns
Career 4.6 66.62 14.4 3.4
At Mile High 2 32.5 16.25 0.5

There are a lot of variables at play here, however the evidence doesn’t support Johnson playing near to his career averages when in Denver, as one would expect if he had a large edge from using performance enhancing drugs. A small sample size is our biggest enemy to really getting the truth.

In the end did Viagra really turn Chad Johnson into a better receiver? We might not know. Thankfully there are memes to help us better understand the situation though.





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