Monday, March 21, 2005
The future shock of steroids
By Skip Bayless Page 2
Now it's time to refocus your rage against 'roids.
Members of Congress kept saying during Thursday's hearing that it was mostly about the epidemic steroid abuse among kids all the way down to sixth graders. But the more that Mark McGwire said, "I'm not here to talk about the past," the more we took our eye off the ball.
Now let's talk about the future.
About mandating Olympics-tough drug testing all the way down to sixth grade.
About ensuring level playing fields in all age groups and sports.
And about Jose Canseco's contention in his book, "Juiced," that steroids and growth hormone can add 10 years to an elite athlete's career and 20 years to anyone's life.
Canseco writes: "Yes, you heard me right: Steroids, used correctly, will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier ... If you start young enough, when you are in your 20s, 30s and 40s, and use steroids and growth hormone properly, you can probably slow the aging process by 15 or 20 years ...
"I've never said this will be easy to educate the American public about this ... What I'm hoping is that some more intelligent, forward-thinking voices will come out and encourage baseball to embrace the potential of steroids to fight for their place in baseball, and in our lives."
Of course, when asked under oath during Thursday's hearing about his pro-steroids stance, Canseco did a lame 180, claiming the book was written two years ago, that he had a hard time getting it published and that he has now seen the steroids-are-bad light.
Do you think these players believe their own testimony?
Indeed, Canseco struggled to find a publisher. But the manuscript could have been edited as late as three months before it recently hit bookstores maybe later. Canseco has expressed pro-steroids views in interview after book-promoting interview. You can bet Canseco still believes that steroids and growth hormone are miracle drugs.
But when he wasn't granted immunity for the hearing, Canseco had to bite his tongue or reverse field on many details in the book. Canseco remains on probation and couldn't risk opening himself up to further prosecution.
Of course, the most obvious flaw in Canseco's pro-steroids argument is that they remain illegal.
Flaw No. 2: If they were legalized and baseball "embraced" them, nearly every player would be forced to use steroids even if he didn't like the way his body reacted to them. Every human reacts a little differently to a drug. And if all players were using them Canseco, remember, says he wasn't even a "major-league caliber" player without steroids imagine the pressure every player would feel to increase his dosage to danger levels. Imagine the addiction and depression problems.
Which leads to Flaw No. 3: Kids who hear Canseco's pro-steroids message aren't going to ask their family doctors to supervise their steroid programs. They're going to sneak around and buy black-market stuff via the Internet or neighborhood gym, most of it from Mexico, and they're going to start injecting themselves with mega-doses up to 100 times the recommended therapeutic use. Bombard a teenager's raging hormones with artificial testosterone, and muscles will grow almost as fast as problems.
Assault. Rape. Suicide. You name it, Jose.
I don't disagree with Canseco's premise that, in moderation with supervision, steroids and growth hormone can be highly effective and relatively safe for some humans. Beyond Canseco, I've heard that from too many fitness experts and scientists who specialize in body building.
But what is moderation when you're talking about the pressure to set home-run records or to show your friends (and girlfriend) that you can win a starting position on the high school (or middle school) football team? And how fair is it to lose your position to a guy who's shooting himself full of illegal drugs when you're clean?
That's why I was happy that Thursday's hearing exposed McGwire for what he is: A "beloved hero" who certainly sounded as if he cheated to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old home run record.
And those who were outraged over the elephant that wasn't in the congressional room Barry Bonds, who broke McGwire's single-season record and who's on course to break Hank Aaron's career record should now realize why he wasn't subpoenaed. Bonds now risks far more than a tainted legacy. Bonds must worry about a potential perjury charge.
Congress couldn't interfere in the ongoing BALCO case that could involve Bonds as a witness or a defendant.
As the congressional hearing was going on and on in Washington on Thursday, the BALCO grand jury was questioning Bonds' ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, in San Francisco (that's according to a Sunday story in the San Francisco Chronicle). She says Bonds told her in 2000 that he was taking steroids orally. Bonds told the grand jury he "unknowingly" took the designer steroid THG for a short while, only because his friend and trainer Greg Anderson led him to believe it was something like flaxseed oil.
But here's the best part: Bell says the reason he told her was because he was suffering from adverse side effects quickly losing his hair, breaking out in acne, bloating and blowing out a tendon in his elbow because his muscles got too powerful.
There. That's what kids need to hear.
Yet when members of Congress pressed the sluggers on the panel to look into the cameras and tell kids how bad steroids are for you, their pleas came off as forced and phony. That's because they don't really believe steroids are bad for you. It sounds as if Canseco and McGwire, as young members of the Oakland A's, learned how to cycle on and off various combinations of steroids and growth hormone in fairly safe doses and they obviously could afford high-grade drugs. Canseco, who calls himself the Godfather of Steroids, says he taught many other players how to use the drugs properly.
None of the sluggers questioned by Congress has grown an extra head. None has suffered any obvious debilitating side effects. But according to Bell, Bonds suffered from early steroid abuse. Jason Giambi, who reportedly told the BALCO grand jury that he used steroids, suffered a series of health problems last season though it isn't known if steroids had anything to do with those problems.
If only Giambi could have gone into detail under oath about those health problems. But Giambi got out of testifying because he argued that, like Bonds, he has already testified to the BALCO grand jury.
So in the end, unfortunately, the congressional hearing might have sent as much of a positive as negative message to kids. When healthy-looking guys who have slugged thousands of combined homers mutter, "Kids, steroids are bad," what do you think some kids are going to say?
Where do I get 'em?
And several naive, buffoonish congressmen seemed to conclude that kids are shooting themselves in the butts with steroids only because baseball players are doing it. No, the majority of teenage steroid abusers are more interested in football than baseball. The center of the universe in many towns and neighborhoods is the local high school football team.
See "Friday Night Lights."
Can Congress handle the truth about steroids?
So it's ludicrous for Congress to blame the steroid epidemic only on baseball's sluggers.
And it's equally ludicrous to think that baseball's owners and players will heed the congressional warning and readily agree to an Olympics-tough drug testing program two strikes and you're out, with random testing year round. No, Congress needs to heed Canseco's book.
He's right: Steroids work, and players will continue to find ways to beat the weak, poorly governed tests sanctioned by owners who still want to sell home runs.
But none of us should want athletes using them in any level of competition. Who wants to see sluggers or linebackers with mutant muscles? Players succeed because they have better steroid formulas or because their bodies respond better to growth hormone? Chemical champions?
Children forced to use steroids to compete by the time they reach puberty?
No, Congress eventually must pass legislation that regulates performance-enhancing drug use in all sports, at all levels.
Do not be deceived, ladies and gentlemen of Congress. The NFL needs much tougher testing. So does the NBA. And the NCAA. And the PGA.
Trust me, steroid users and abusers in many sports male and female are thanking their lucky stars that Congress is fixated on baseball. Canseco has written what many athletes in many sports believe: If you educate yourself, you'll probably be OK. Whatever, steroids are worth the risk.
Seeing Mark McLiar all but admit that he used steroids only reinforced that belief for many chemically enhanced jocks.
So the next move doesn't belong to baseball.
It belongs to Congress. The only answer is stricter steroid laws and a universal test for all levels of competition, down to sixth grade. As Canseco writes, we must "accept what biochemistry and biotechnology can do."
That future should be sticking Congress like a needle in the butt.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.