Thursday, June 08, 2006

'Roid Rage

In case you missed it, baseball took another shot on the chin this week when news broke of the plight of Jason Grimsley, a journeyman relief pitcher who has not only been availing himself of performance enhancing drugs, but also dabbling in the trade. So much so that the IRS is all but living with him as they investigate his finances and business ventures.

This is not a surprise. Sure, there are those who donned the blinders early on and insisted that steroid use was sporadic and easily identified, but the reality is that in the absence of strict regulations men who get paid for athletic performance will cheat. Period. While smearing a booger on a ball might help it break a little harder and corking a bat could help the ball clear that right field wall if you hit it just so, steroids leave nothing to chance. They simply make athletes better. All the time.

Media clowns like Peter Gammons have long ignored the reality of steroids and allowed the public to believe that it was only the beefy sluggers who would benefit from steroids, but the truth is that the players who benefit most are those who need to recover faster. That's how steroids work. They elevate hormone levels and allow the body to generate muscle faster, this increase stamina and durability while decreasing the amount of time an athlete needs to recover from intense activity. Now that the steroid scandal has revealed that steroids are being taken by players at every position, the media hacks who fed the denial are now wagging the finger of shame. These so-called reporters have rather intimate relationships with players. They are in and out of locker rooms and see these guys up close everyday. Shame on them for not reporting the story of steroids as it unfolded. Instead they helped sweep the problem under the rug until there was so much crap under it that the story had to break. Now everybody wants to be stunned.

Let's be honest about steroids. Anybody who knows about sports from a participation level knows that steroids are there. I witnessed extensive steroid abuse by football players at a division III college. Those players had nothing to gain from steroid use. None of them were going to see an NFL scout at any of their games, but they still loaded up on steroids so they could be bigger stronger and faster. Coaches knew but looked the other way. The tests are easy to beat. Even the more stringent international tests can be fooled, but those used domestically are a sham. They can't detect Human Growth Hormone at all and it is easy to mask most of the contemporary steroids that are in the market today.

Baseball isn't the only place steroids are in play. Just because the NFL claims to have a testing program in place doesn't mean that 75% of the players in the NFL aren't on steroids. When a 250 pound linebacker runs the forty in 4.4 seconds something isn't right. The same is true when a wide receiver manages to bench 400 pounds. But the NFL isn't where it starts. Some players begin taking steroids in high school but most learn about them in college. Big time college football is rampant with steroids. Pick any of the top ten teams and watch how the players develop over the course of four years. Sure, it's natural for an 18 year-old to pick up a few pounds over three or four years of college, but some of these guys are gaining 50 or more pounds of solid muscle. One highly touted linebacker started his college career as a 215 pound freshman and managed to get up to 250 pounds by his junior season.

And don't think that they stop there. Have you noticed how muscular players in the NBA have become? Do you think that steroids might have something to do with the above-the-rim antics we see so often on ESPN? Until they start employing some serious testing we should simply assume that everybody is taking them. I love Lebron, but he's totally unnatural. I would hate to see him test positive for steroids and I hope that he's just a freak of nature but the reality is that in the back of my mind I suspect that he's taking some kind of supplement that enhances his physical performance. Golf? Why not? Hasn't the average drive gone up drastically in the past 10 years or so?

For now baseball is under the gun. Bud Selig's decision to ignore the blatant abuse of steroids by players like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire encouraged other players to follow suit and the problem got so far out of hand that Congress stepped in. Now we have a dramatic story unfolding involving some obscure middle reliever and dozens of players he did business with. While the hoards of sports media personalities are all doing their level best to appear shocked the only real surprise is that this story didn't break 10 years ago.

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