Commentary

Former steroid dealer wanted to make a difference

Updated: June 5, 2008, 11:10 PM ET
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

David Jacobs, the Texas trainer found shot to death Thursday, wanted to make a difference. But the pressure of making that difference had begun to paralyze him in recent weeks.

I first heard from Jacobs through his attorney in February. The 35-year-old had pleaded guilty to a single steroid possession count and was cooperating with federal prosecutors, hoping to get probation. Yet with his sentence uncertain, and his court date still months away, he already was thinking about a tell-all interview.

The reasons he chose ESPN matter less than the fact that he thought he had it all figured out. Once he told the feds about the steroids and growth hormone that he'd imported from China -- and the pro athletes he sold to -- he'd be free to hit the talk show circuit. Become a somebody instead of the guy who helped somebodies.

The ex-Marine, whose father was a gymnastics champion, almost had it right. His cooperation did get him probation. But the public part -- the part where his friends and former clients would know precisely what he said -- well, he wasn't quite ready for that.

Jacobs told me he had e-mails, text messages on his phone, messages from his MySpace page, and canceled bank checks that would implicate at least half a dozen big-name players, including two who served as his primary conduits to others. He publicly named the Saints' Matt Lehr as one, although Lehr's attorney has insisted his client is not a criminal target.

Once we sat down, Jacobs said, the whole thing would be very clear.

The plan was to do so shortly after his sentencing on May 1. But something spooked him. Two agents from NFL security knocked on his door that day. "They just showed up out of nowhere," he told me, unnerved.

Before he'd ramped up his distribution network and was just hitting bodybuilding shows as a fan, Jacobs could walk down the street relatively unnoticed. But since then, he had ballooned into a varicose version of himself with a tattoo running up his right arm. It wasn't going to be so easy for him to walk down the street unnoticed anymore.

After the visit from the NFL, Jacobs began to think twice about going public. But even after he agreed to meet with the league's security agents, he hadn't fully backed away from wanting his moment in the spotlight.

We talked tentatively about my coming to Dallas to interview him on May 21, after the NFL agents left. As the date approached, however, so did the reality of what the day after might be like.

If Jacobs lived in New York, or even Duluth, Minn., things might have been different. But he lived in Plano, Texas. The former home of Jose Canseco. A town that was thrown onto the steroid map by the suicide of high school pitcher Taylor Hooton -- and remains there thanks to the crusading efforts of his father, Don.

Jacobs talked about no longer being comfortable in public and having to sell his house.

In a particularly chilling moment, he said: "The kinds of people I have information about, they're the kinds of people who can put a bullet in the back of my head." I had no idea whether he was talking about pro athletes or other kinds of customers he had serviced. Or maybe he was just inflating his own sense of himself. There's no way to tell. All I knew was they were the words of a man who was reconsidering the price of making a difference.

Three days before I'd hoped to meet with him, I got this e-mail from Cut260: "As of right now I am giving 100 percent and getting nothing in return and no guarantee of anything in the future. Everyone is getting their big stories, front-page headlines and bonuses but I am not getting anything in any way except a guarantee of thousands of people to be extremely pissed off at me for ruining the images of their favorite sport and heroes."

Needless to say, the meeting never happened.

It's unclear precisely what Jacobs gave the NFL. In a statement, league spokesman Greg Aiello said, "It is premature to comment on any specific player at this time. Anyone found to have violated our policies will be subject to discipline, including suspension."

It's also unclear what drove the events that left Jacobs shot to death beside 30-year-old fitness model Amanda Jo Earhart-Savell, who is described as his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Dallas Police reportedly are investigating whether the deaths were a murder-suicide, leaving questions about who was murdered.

The records Jacobs left behind aren't the only measure of the man. He leaves behind a family and friends who are grieving right now. But those records will be the yardstick that measures how much of a difference he'll make to the sports world he wanted to put on notice.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"