Friday, December 14, 2007

Roid Rage

Well the laundry list is out and there are a lot of players who’ve been linked to steroids. Big, bad Roger Clemens is among the would be Hall-of-Famers who will spend the next few years being hounded by their connection to performance enhancing substances. Sadly, the list is far from comprehensive. The Mitchell Report might have been exhaustive but that doesn’t mean they got everybody. The goal of this inquest was to identify the scope of the problem, not to resolve it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this list represents only 10% of the players who are guilty of doping.

Naturally, just about everybody on this list denies any wrong doing but let’s just see how many of them hire lawyers to sue for slander. Mark McGwire and Raphael Palmiero both too k vicious shots at Jose Canseco but stopped short of holding Canseco legally accountable for defamation of character. That’s because Jose told the truth. In retrospect, Canseco should have sued them for questioning his integrity.

It’s not practical to retroactively punish players. Major League Baseball needs to move forward and address the issue of current cheaters. Let the court of public opinion handle the players on the list. Shame can be a powerful thing. The issue at hand is current and future use. There are laboratories feverishly working on better performance enhancing substances. There are loopholes to exploit. That’s why Mark McGwire dodged a bullet when he was caught with Andro. Andro wasn’t a steroid but rather a precursor that became a steroid in the body. Technically speaking, Andro wasn’t even illegal at the time and it wasn’t banned in baseball. But the truth is that McGwire used Andro to supplement his regular steroid regimen.

Labs are doing more than exploiting loopholes, they’re also creating illegal drugs that can’t be readily detected. Scientists carefully study the methods used in current testing and engineer drugs to avoid the indicators. Steroids are traditionally fat soluble which means they tend to linger in the system for weeks but Barry Bonds was implicated in an operation that alleges the use of water soluble steroids that don’t stay in the system for more than a day or two. The now infamous “Cream” and accompanying “Clear” are examples of steroids that were engineered to beat conventional tests.

Nobody utilizes more rigorous testing than the International Olympic Committee but even the IOC was duped by Balco. Marion Jones managed to foil the numerous tests Olympic competitors undergo and the result was Olympic domination. Her name surfaced in the BALCO nightmare and she subsequently admitted to using steroids. The result: she was stripped of her medals. Also, although it was unlikely she was planning a comeback, Jones is banned from international competition for a minimum of 2 years. Even though the tests can be beaten, the consequences of a positive test make the risk exceed the reward.

Imagine if those penalties were imposed in professional sports. Currently players face a suspension that amounts to a fraction of the regular season. In fact, in the NFL steroids are treated in the same manner as marijuana. Why? Marijuana is not a performance enhancing substance and it doesn’t impugn the integrity of the game. It’s about image. People seem more disgusted with Ricky Williams than they do Shawn Merriman but it was Merriman who cheated. Merriman’s decision to break the law made him bigger, stronger and faster. Ricky’s made him hungry. Merriman even made the Pro Bowl on the heels of his positive test. And now it’s all better. He’s still a gridiron hero but Ricky Williams is a punk. Frankly, Ricky Williams is more worthy of our respect and trust.

Professional athletes have the wherewithal to purchase steroids on their own. Pay is based on performance so players see steroids as an investment. If they can mitigate the risk, there is a tangible reward. Forget about health concerns, these guys risk permanent injury on every play. Long term liver failure is the least of their worries. The risk is getting caught. The risk is losing money. Furthermore, since teams aren’t held directly accountable for doping there’s a culture of looking the other way throughout sports. It’s not just at the professional level either. College coaches and athletic directors can see the impact of steroids better than anybody but when’s the last time you heard of a college coach blowing the whistle on a player who miraculously packed on 40 pounds of solid muscle over an offseason? And because college athletes have a desire to compete at the professional level, the use is prevalent.

For decades former athletes at the professional and collegiate levels have characterized drug testing as laughable. Players know when they might be tested and there are hundreds of ways to beat the test. Combine that with the masking agents and more difficult to detect drugs and you have a system designed to create the illusion of propriety. Ultimately the primary concern is revenue. If doping generates more money, nobody really cares.

Part of the problem is that fans don’t really care. Most see steroids as a minor problem. They don’t give steroids credit for the impact they have. Many people are ignorant to the science of steroids and assume that steroids result in big, bulky, slow behemoths. But then you have Marion Jones. The reality is that steroids falsely increase hormone levels that enhance athletic performance. The athlete can use a training program to dictate the impact steroids have. Marion Jones used steroids to improve her speed. Roger Clemens used steroids to speed his recovery time and, like Barry Bonds, used steroids and HGH to shave years off his performance. How do you quantify the impact? You don’t have to. Once a player tests positive it’s safe to assume they’ve been juicing all along and that everything they’ve accomplished is tainted. Because the testing procedures are such a joke you can go ahead and assume that they’ll hop right back on that steroid cycle after they jump through a few hoops to appease the masses. Once a doper, always a doper. That might sound unfair, but so are steroids.

It wouldn’t be that big a deal if it weren’t for the kids. What an adult chooses to do to his body is his business but what about those kids who are pursuing the dream of playing big time college ball or even making it as a pro? If the road to the NFL or Major League Baseball is paved with the Cream, then collegiate players will be juicing to catch up and if collegiate players are fortifying their performance with dangerous substances it’s ridiculous to assume that high school athletes aren’t following suit. From there it only gets worse.

That’s why it’s time to stop fooling around and impose some serious penalties. Improve the testing procedures and put the screws to those who come up positive. Instead of suspending a player for a month, kick them out for two years and impose sanctions on the team. You can bet your bottom dollar that the San Diego Chargers would have dealt with Shawn Merriman internally if a positive test would have cost them the playoffs. The Yankees would have never signed Roger Clemens is his positive test would have resulted in a forfeit of the entire season. That’s if the player would even be willing to risk getting caught if the penalty was as severe as a two year layoff. As it stands right now teams can benefit from the actions of cheaters and the only risk they face is losing that player. Raise the stakes. Once you take steroids out of professional sports, amateur sports will follow.


munch said...

Interesting we have these scientists focusing on next gen roids and we can't even cure common diseases.

Agreed most all the ballplayers have not been named. Maybe we need polygraph tests in addition to actual steroid tests.

The fans are jackasses too. It's time for us to stop being spectators and do our own thing or boycott the games.

claw71 said...

Right. Because there's no money in fighting diseases. When you look at the salaries these guys command and what they have to do to stay in shape it's easy money.

Fans are stupid. People are already giving Rocket a pass. Once a doper always a doper.