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Thursday, October 23, 2003
Updated: October 24, 5:32 PM ET
'Roids should have us all in a rage

By Mike Greenberg
Special to Page 2

Let all the baseball players do cocaine.

Football players, too. Track and field stars? Why not?

I don't care, I really don't. It's their bodies, their lives, their disposable income. If they get caught by the police, they'll have to face the music just like anybody else; and that will be their problem, too, not mine. Personally, I don't think it is anyone's business if a player is snorting cocaine, or smoking marijuana, or shooting heroin.

But, steroids? That's a different story -- especially in light of the BALCO probe, which has seen 40 big-name athletes, including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Bill Romanowski and Marion Jones subpoenaed to testify.

Place yourself in the following position: Your hardworking, dedicated, athletically-gifted teenage son approaches and asks you, "Dad, if I do cocaine, will it help me make it to the major leagues?"

Lyle Alzado
Lyle Alzado blamed steroids for his brain cancer.
You can look your son square in the eye and answer him honestly. If you are so inclined, you can tell him that cocaine is the reason that Darryl Strawberry is in jail instead of the Hall of Fame. But you don't even have to go there if you don't want to. A simple "no" will suffice.

Then he asks this question: "Dad, if I do steroids, will it help me make it to the major leagues?"

What are you going to tell him?

You can show him pictures of Lyle Alzado and read to him from medical journals and beg him not to underestimate the importance of his own health, but you'd be avoiding the question. There is only one way you can answer him honestly, and that is to say, "Yes."

In the case of baseball, the Players Association and Major League Baseball itself are to blame for this. In their greed, they are placing at risk the lives of thousands -- if not millions -- of American boys. Perhaps one of them is your son. Perhaps one is mine.

Because the players are making millions by hitting home runs, because the owners are pocketing increased revenues and because "chicks dig the long ball," everyone involved is content to place their hands in their pockets and hide behind a toothless testing policy that was enacted for public relations purposes only. They used to juice the balls in this sport; why should we be surprised that they are only too happy to juice the players?

The National Football League has a steroid policy that matters. My radio partner, Mike Golic, who came into the league in the mid-1980s and remained through the mid-'90s, tells me repeatedly that the decline in steriod usage during his playing days was apparent to all and came as a direct result of random testing. When players are found to be using, they are pointed out and punished.

Track and field, also at the center of the latest probe, no doubt has troubles with drugs; but it takes testing seriously, too. If you don't think so, I would guess Ben Johnson disagrees with you.

Barry Bonds
If Barry Bonds ever tests positive for steroids, all his records should have an asterisk attached to them.
Americans aren't always above doing dangerous or unhealthy things in the interest of short-term gratification. How many of us would trade 10 years of our lives to switch places with Barry Bonds? Or Jason Giambi? Or Mark McGwire? Don't be so quick to say you wouldn't. If steroids are a guaranteed ticket to millions of dollars, if risks to your health are the price of admission to the major leagues, you might be inclined to roll the dice. And so might I.

We might even be willing to allow our children to consider it.

But there are no such guarantees. The overwhelming majority of baseball players who use steroids will never earn a dime playing the game, and even those who do won't make much. Most of them will spend their twenties riding buses in the Pacific Coast League, then the rest of their lives awaiting the inevitable onslaught of heart or liver disease. Watching a dream die is painful enough; sacrificing your health needlessly in the pursuit of that dream is a tragedy -- a preventable one at that.

I don't have the entire solution, but I do have the beginning of one. Place an asterisk next to the statistics of any major-league player who tests positive for steroids. Whether that player is a home run king or a utility infielder, let his numbers be forever tainted by baseball's version of the Scarlet Letter. Let boys who read the record books and baseball encyclopedias (if any boys still do that) come across those asterisks and ask their fathers, "What did he do wrong?"

Isn't that one question you would like to get a chance to answer?

Mike Greenberg co-hosts ESPN Radio's Morning Show with Mike Golic and frequently anchors SportsCenter.