End of Days for steroids

Updated: June 6, 2005, 8:13 PM ET
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

The Governor of California took time from his state's deepening fiscal crisis last weekend to preside over a body building contest.

Never mind that the guy who won the event, the prize for which included a Hummer and $100,000, looked as natural as a taxidermy exhibit. And put aside the governor's continuing financial stake in the gathering, which attracts more athletes than an Olympic Games. If Jesse Ventura could wrestle as governor, then Arnold should be able to return to his roots, too.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put himself into the middle of a controversy that may have political ramifications.
The trouble is that those roots are rotting, and the tree-sized bodybuilders who owe their careers to the Governator are starting to fall. It must have been an astonishing scene backstage at the Greater Columbus Convention Center last weekend. While the movie-star-turned-politician was holding court at his Arnold Classic, some attendees were holding subpoenas that had been delivered by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They were invited to appear later this month before a grand jury in Des Moines.

It is unclear whether Arnold knew about any of this, though most everyone else there apparently did. According to Chad Nicholls, a nutritionist and trainer who was in attendance, "It was the talk of the show. Most of the people I spoke with knew or heard that the DEA was around."

And yet the governor's press office told ESPN that since The Arnold was not a "government event," state officials would have no comment. Instead, a spokesperson threw the issue to Arnold's business partner, whose secretary seemed bewildered that she'd have to answer for a governor whose position on federal oversight of supplements was summed up by his anti-regulatory quip, "I have very rarely seen the government do anything that was effective."

Four days after he received a standing ovation at The Arnold for that remark, the FDA sent letters to two dozen companies telling them to cease making Andro -- the pill-shaped asterisk in Mark McGwire's 70 home run season. "Anyone who takes these products in sufficient quantities ... is putting himself or herself at risk for serious long-term and potentially irreversible health consequences," FDA commissioner Mark McClellan said. At least five of the companies that received the warning had booths at The Arnold, according to an examination of its exhibitor list.

Schwarzenegger may want to commiserate with Donald Fehr, another politician who has the feds snooping around his business. "Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told baseball's union chief during the Senate Commerce Committee hearings on steroids this week.

The best Fehr could muster was a meek: "I believe that the program that we instituted has had some effect."

But at least Fehr is standing up and taking the hits.

The problem for Schwarzenegger is that it's getting harder and harder to hide. Among the people packed into the convention hall last weekend were Victor Conte, the indicted head of BALCO labs, and Ron Kramer, a former steroid dealer with a criminal record who was recently identified as the tipster who sparked the current probe.

According to a dispatch on the Web site Getbig.com, Kramer was there to pitch nutritional products. Conte was there pitching his mineral supplement ZMA.

Neither Kramer nor Conte's attorney Troy Ellerman could not be reached for comment.

Where is this going? Deeper and deeper into the world of bodybuilding. One of Conte's old allies, the Yugoslavian bodybuilder Milos Sarcev, appears to be of special interest to the DEA, though his lawyer insists that he's been unfairly tarred with innuendo.

By coming to Columbus last weekend, the Governor admirably refused to ignore his roots. But the ground is starting to shift underfoot. Things are starting to get messy. It's time for Arnold to get it.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at shaun.assael@espn3.com.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"

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