Even as Alex Rodriguez described on Monday how the truth would set him free, steroid experts from dopers to dealers to doctors said it is implausible that the superstar had no idea what substances he was taking during three seasons of admitted performance-enhancing drug use.
Rodriguez admitted during an exclusive television interview with ESPN that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in 2001, 2002 and 2003. But the three-time Most Valuable Player suggested at least eight times that he didn't know what he was taking -- even intimating he might have obtained the substances legally at a GNC supplement store.
When asked where he obtained the substance he admitted taking, Rodriguez said, "At the time, you know, you have nutritionists, you have doctors, you have trainers. That's the right question today: Where did you get it? We're in the era of BALCO. …
"There's many things that you can take that are banned substances. I mean, there's things that have been removed from GNC today that would trigger a positive test. I'm not sure exactly what substance I used. But whatever it is, I feel terribly about it."
Sports Illustrated, which broke the story that Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003, reported that the ballplayer's results reflected his use of Primobolan, a brand name for methenolone, and testosterone.
"It's a well-known combination for athletes who are seeking performance-enhancing benefits to take those together," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
The benefit, he and other experts said, is that while testosterone helps build muscle mass and strength, methenolone helps create a leaner, more "cut" look that also helps maximize muscle efficiency.
Methenolone is not approved for medical use in the United States, and it can't be obtained legally in the U.S. It also isn't the kind of substance that somehow could find its way into a legal supplement, Tygart said.
"We have never seen a case where testosterone or methenolone has come from a supplement, over the counter or otherwise," he said.
Several sources who asked to be anonymous, including one with extensive experience using and dealing in steroids, a doctor and a law enforcement official, said they didn't see how it was possible that a single substance could have resulted in a positive test for both Primobolan and testosterone.
Six times during his ESPN interview, Rodriguez described himself as "naive." Three times, he referenced GNC in the context of taking legal substances that could lead to a positive test. And he repeatedly described a culture that was supposedly so lax that athletes were taking an array of substances without knowing what they were.
"Back then, it was a different culture," Rodriguez said. "It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive."
Asked what kind of substances he was taking, Rodriguez said, "Again, it was such a loosey-goosey area. I'm guilty for a lot of things. I'm guilty for being negligent, naive, not asking all the right questions. And to be quite honest, I don't know exactly what substance I was guilty of using."
Rodriguez also said: "I mean, again, there's such a gray area. That era wasn't about facts. That era -- those words you just mentioned, I guarantee that half the guys that did that in any sport don't know what that is. You basically end up trusting the wrong people. You end up, you know, not being very careful about what you're ingesting."
Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn are investigative reporters for ESPN's enterprise unit. Fainaru-Wada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.