IF YOUR TEAM WON, WOULD YOU CARE IF ITS BEST PLAYER TOOK STEROIDS?
Injecting more life into the steroids debate ... Kevin Jackson wonders if we should even care if players are on steroids. More specifically: If your team won the championship and its star player was found to have used steroids, would you care?
Let them eat steroids | From Kevin Jackson
When you work here every day at the headquarters of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, you have the occasion to bump into a world-class athlete every now and then. Oh, the place isn't quite crawling with them like a "This Is SportsCenter" commercial, but they're here often enough.
One Sunday afternoon a few years back, I was in the NFL "war room" -- you know that spot where Boomer, TJ and the crew watch all the week's NFL games and prepare the highlights for "PrimeTime." On this particular day, we were joined in the room by an NFL All-Pro cornerback.
Now, one of the best perks of the room -- aside from getting to watch 10 NFL games at once with an animated gang of football experts -- is that the entire afternoon is catered. Right before kickoff of the early games, a few carts are wheeled in, usually filled with some sort of rubber chicken, pasta, potatoes, salad, cookies, pies ... basically, it's Dr. Atkins' worst nightmare.
As I was loading up my plate on this particular Sunday, I looked around to see that just about everyone else in the room was in line for the buffet ... everyone except that All-Pro cornerback, that is. He was sitting over in the corner with his handler and searching through a small bag he had brought with him. Slowly, he pulled out what looked like three or four small tubes of toothpaste. No, it wasn't Close-Up, and, no, it wasn't anything illegal.
It was lunch.
I'm not actually sure what was inside. More than likely, it was some of that "energy gel" gobblygook that marathoners use. Whatever it was, it was strictly over-the-counter stuff, and it was probably a heck of a lot lower in carbs than my gut-busting plate.
My point is this: Pro athletes aren't like the rest of us. Their bodies are machines, and they're constantly looking for the most efficient fuels to power those machines. And those fuels aren't found at Taco Bell or McDonald's. They're completely foreign substances to the average person.
Which brings me to steroids. Yeah, I know they're illegal. Yeah, I know they do terrible, awful things to your body. And, yeah, I know the President considered them enough of a threat to our children that he devoted a chunk of his State of the Union speech to warning about their dangers.
Lyle Alzado blamed steroids for his brain cancer.
But I also know that's not realistic. I know that the minute we come up with a sophisticated test to detect steroids, some guy in a labcoat is coming up with an even more sophisticated way to mask steroids. He's working on some sort of human-growth hormone or other miracle drug that will help make you huge ... and not show up on a drug test.
BALCO found it ... for a while. And I'd bet that some other lab rat out there is filled with the next generation right now.
So ... I give up. I say let them all do steroids.
The cynical side of me says that more of them than I care to believe are doing it already. The realist in me says that we'll never be able to catch all the cheaters anyway. The pragmatist in me wonders what's the real difference between something illegal in a needle and something legal in a toothpaste tube. (I mean, who gets to the draw all those lines between Glutamine and Creatine and HGH and steroids?)
And, trust me, they all know the risks by now. Or at least they should. If they're willing to take that gamble, then who am I to step up and try to protect them?
We've all seen the studies that say the average life expectancy of an NFL player is around 20 years less than that of the average male. Does that stop you from enjoying pro football every Sunday?
Go to the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony some time and watch how many of those former gladiators are now limping around or using a cane. Does that make you want to ban tackling?
Our games take a huge toll on the athletes who play them. That's one reason why they're paid enough money in one season to last a lifetime.
They don't run like us, they don't jump like us ... and they don't eat like us, either.
Like Ivan Drago locked somewhere in Siberia, they're built and trained to performed. It's a training that I wouldn't understand, but somewhere along the way, steroids became part of the SOP.
For my entire life, I've been a fan of the Seattle Mariners, a team that has never reached the World Series. If the M's were to end that drought in 2004 and then have a star player test positive for steroids, would it bother me?
What are you on?
Can't root for a slacker | Robert Lipsyte
That's a great question, Kevin. I think of Damn Yankees -- isn't steroids a kind of Faustian Bargain? What about the Walter Scott line, "One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name." What about that old line about the "smart pill" -- die a little earlier but you could be a mini-Mozart?
If you clear out all the morality, the reefer madness side effects, etc. -- if you really, really care and you want to find the limits of your talent and really win, why wouldn't you do whatever was necessary for yourself and, by extension, expect someone lucky enough to have freaky genes and a shot at the Show to do the same?
How different, really, is a performance-enhancing drug from an anti-depressant that allows you "to be yourself" or cosmetic surgery that allows you to be judged for your on-air talent not your saggy eyes? Or your presidential creds rather than your long chin?
Taken to that extreme, anyone who doesn't do all he can to get better and win is a slacker, as deficient as the guy who skimps on reps or batting practice.
I'm starting to talk myself into this position.
Down with uppers | Patrick Hruby
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that a large number of major league players -- perhaps the majority -- use uppers on a regular basis.
Ken Caminiti's estimates of 50 percent steroid use in baseball was clearly pumped up.
Ken Caminiti, a former MVP who admitted he used steroids, also told SI that up to 90 percent of major league players use some type of pregame stimulant. Former major league outfielder Chad Curtis concurred.
"Sometimes guys don't even know what they're taking," Curtis told the magazine. "One guy will take some pills out of his locker and tell somebody else, 'Here, take one of these. You'll feel better.' The other guy will take it and not even know what it is.
"If the starting pitcher knows that you're going out there naked, he's upset that you're not giving him [everything] you can. The big-time pitcher wants to make sure you're beaning up before the game."
Of course, none of this is new. Uppers have a long and distinguished history in the game, from "Ball Four" to Pete Rose, from the tragic case of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler to the 1980 world champion Phillies, some of whom allegedly had a minor league physician write them amphetamine prescriptions.
So would I, as a fan, be upset if a star player and/or a utility infielder used performance-enhancing drugs to help my team win a title? Heck no.
My guess is that it happens all the time.
They have no right | Luke Cyphers
When players quit benefiting from government money that subsidizes their teams and their ballparks, and when they renounce anyone's claims that their games and their products are something great for the kids in "the community," then they're free, in my mind, to break government laws and do whatever the hell they please.
I'm waiting ...
Are you not entertained? | Alan Grant
The bottom line is this: People watch sports for entertainment. Sure, there is some requisite subsidizing of fantasy ( for both kids and their parents) that accompanies these games, but does anyone really give a crap if their favorite players on their favorite teams incur irreparable damage to their bodies because of prolonged drug use?
I care. I care because I read Jere Longman's gripping and stunning piece in the New York Times about a former European champion in the women's shotput. A young German woman named Heidi set many records in the '80s that still remain. But not much remains of Heidi. She is now a man named Andreas. That got your attention? Andreas is one of thousands of former German athletes experiencing the severe aftereffects of steroids. Andreas' wife, Ute, is another. She battled bulimia for years and once attempted suicide. Oh sure, the East Germans were forced to juice, while Americans do it on their own. But the question is whether sports fans and journalists should even raise an eyebrow. Read Mr. Longman's story, then tell me you don't care.