Predicting the teens: More PEDs
If predicting the future was easy or reliable, I would be writing this column from a Pebble Beach mansion financed by waiting until the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees three games to none in the 2004 ALCS, then betting every single dollar I had that Boston would rally and win the World Series. Unfortunately, predictions aren't easy or reliable.
For instance, when New Year's Day 2000 dawned no one seemed to care very much about steroids, so who predicted they would become the new decade's most important (and overblown) story? Or perhaps that was just because we were too busy emptying the bathtubs of water stored for a Y2K disaster. Nonetheless, within a few years steroids became the subject of federal investigations, testimony at congressional hearings, a talking point in the State of the Union address and the source of more outraged columns than Pete Rose. (And just think of the uproar if Pete had admitted to taking steroids.)
The steroids hysteria was kind of surprising given that they were such a nonissue in the '90s. It wasn't because of ignorance. Fans chanted "steroids" at Jose Canseco way back in 1988, and the country embraced Mark McGwire as a national hero in 1998 despite learning that he was taking androstenedione. It just didn't seem to matter to people then.
Oh, and by steroids, I mean steroids in baseball. No one cares about steroids and PEDs in football where, as we all know, players are naturally 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with 29-inch waists, 400-pound bench presses and 4.3 40 times. It's only in baseball that steroids are the problem. And golf.
My first prediction for the coming decade, however, is that the steroids furor will die away. In fact, by the time I make my predictions for the 2020s, I believe Americans will accept steroids and HGH the same way we regard the use of those drugs with the lengthy side-effect warnings so frequently advertised on TV and in magazines. You know the ones.
"Serious side effects include: serious infections including TB, nervous system problems, such as multiple sclerosis, rare reports of serious blood problems (some fatal) and lymphoma." "Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions." "In patients with asthma, medicines like [ours] may increase the chance of asthma-related death "
Those warnings are from actual advertisements found in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, which has been a leading anti-steroid voice for decades. And just as we take those drugs for their promised benefits despite such warnings, we'll also be taking HGH and other PEDs in 2019. I'm not saying this will be healthy; merely that it will happen. Men will take HGH to look ripped like the guys on the covers of fitness magazines, to hit more home runs in softball leagues and, of course, because they think their marginally increased "guns" will be an even more effective tool for picking up women in bars.
How will pro leagues, so slow to react to the use of steroids in the first place, respond to this new acceptance of PEDs? They will debate, deliberate and procrastinate, hem and haw, twiddle their thumbs, create blue panel commissions and in the end decide that the simplest course of action will be continue with their current ineffective testing programs that catch virtually no one anyway.
Not that any of this acceptance of steroids will prevent bitter baseball writers from withholding their Hall of Fame vote for McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Prediction 2: There will be a professional competitive eating league on the Food Network by 2015, with the great Alton Brown doing play-by-play, Kobayashi providing color and Kirstie Alley reporting from the sideline.
Prediction 3: There will be a college football playoff by 2015. Not only will no one be satisfied; there will be spirited cries to go back to the old bowl system in 2016.
Prediction 4: There will be a class-action suit filed against the NFL on behalf of brain-damaged players. The NFL will lose, requiring the league to pay several billion dollars in damages. To protect itself against future lawsuits, the league will mandate that any player suffering a concussion be sidelined for the next four games of the 21-game regular season. This will not solve the problem, but it will require fans to draft plenty of backup quarterbacks on their fantasy teams.
Prediction 5: Due to the Tiger Woods affair, athletes' behavior and romances off the field will be covered by the paparazzi in the same way celebrities are, which will require a slight retooling of the current media rules for covering personal lives. With only four daily newspapers left in the country by mid-decade (The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Grit), the Baseball Writers' Association of America will be forced to admit TMZ and E! "reporters" as members. These new members will immediately refuse to cast Hall of Fame votes for McGwire, Bonds, Clemens or Sean Penn.
Prediction 6: Baseball will announce plans to expand to Japan by the end of the decade, while the NBA and NFL announce plans to expand into Europe earlier. Resistant columnists and sports radio hosts will complain about baseball games beginning after midnight.
Prediction 7: Soccer will grow in popularity but still remain far short of the country's established Big Seven sports: Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, auto racing, golf and competitive eating.
Prediction 8: Newspapers will continue to shrink while fans increasingly get their sports news from media giants ESPN, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TMZ. Desperate for sports content, networks will begin televising video games in prime time, beginning with "Madden 16." Meanwhile, ESPN will open local bureaus in every city with NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL teams, yet still will be accused of East Coast bias.
Prediction 9: Despite continuous speculation that pro sports has finally reached an unsustainable level and that salaries and ticket prices cannot continue to rise, salaries and ticket prices will continue to rise.
Prediction 10: Jamie Moyer will retire. Brett Favre will retire several times.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jimcaple.