ESPN takes hard look at steroids From East Germany to our back yard


December 13, 1991|By RAY FRAGER

There is precious little sports journalism on television, so all efforts deserve attention. But by any standard, an ESPN program next week should be worth a viewer's time.

"Outside the Lines: Steroids -- Whatever It Takes" (Tuesday, 10:30 p.m.) appears promising. And ESPN has performed a service just by scheduling the program.

Conventional wisdom would hold that we've already read and seen enough about steroids, that the subject is passe. But performance-enhancing drugs remain very much an unresolved issue in sports.

Two segments on the show are reports on the former East German sports machine, one fueled on steroid-fed athletes, and on John Wheeler, a former Baylor basketball player allegedly pressured into steroid use by his coach. Other segments, not available in advance, include the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry Long talking about his suicide attempt in the wake of a positive steroid test, the use of steroids by junior and senior high youths, the battle between users and testers and the status of performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL.

The Wheeler report is done in "60 Minutes" style, with "SportsCenter" anchor Bob Ley accompanying the ex-player -- who suffers from Marfan syndrome -- to Gladewater, Texas, home of the doctor who allegedly gave Wheeler the drugs. The doctor -- whose license has been revoked -- recalls giving Wheeler the steroids, but has no response when Wheeler says the drugs might have exacerbated his Marfan. That's because the doctor hasn't heard of the disease.

The East German segment presents evidence to support the allegation that world champion runner Marita Koch was a heavy steroid user, taking doses to match those of Ben Johnson. And Ley said that steroids researcher Chuck Yesalis of Penn State says that we won't see a clean Olympics competition in our lifetime.

As troubling as that notion might be, it's not nearly as worrisome as the attraction of steroids to young people, those who see the short-term benefits but ignore the long-term health dangers.

"These drugs are a drug of choice, even down to early teens," Ley said in a news conference this week.

But maybe this program can reach some of them.

Drug enforcement officials "believe steroid people are the most educable users out there," Ley said. "We're dealing with people who are smart. You can't throw 'Reefer Madness' at them."

So the challenge was to put together a balanced program.

"It was very important to us to be didactic, but still to be compelling," Ley said.

Tune in Tuesday and judge for yourself if ESPN succeeded. But, in a sense, the network already has -- we're paying attention to an important issue again.

ESPN offers another serious message on Tuesday night at 9:30, with "Dick Vitale Special: The Game of Life." The program features a passionate appeal from Vitale to players at the Nike/ABCD Basketball Camp in Indianapolis to stay away from drugs. . . . For those of you just tuning in, Baltimore gets the Washington Redskins games on television each week because the NFL contract with the networks designates our town as a Redskins peripheral market. Local stations have no choice. That also means switching to a Redskins kickoff at 4 p.m. when the 1 p.m. game still is going on.


Take a bow, Scott Garceau, for your work on the Joe Krivak story. The Channel 2 sportscaster reported the Maryland football coach's resignation the night before it occurred. Once again, WMAR demonstrated why it's the class of local television sports reporting -- not that it seems to help in the ratings. Channel 13's newscasts continue to dominate the market, and no one is rushing to plant a crown on its sports efforts. . . . Alan Rothenberg, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said recently that, during the 1994 World Cup, "We will confine the duration of commercials to logical periods during breaks in play. There will be no arbitrary interruptions while play is in progress." Sounds like a nice spin to put on what might be a very flat market for World Cup commercials.


NBC's Marv Albert will appear today on "Sports Forum" on WITH

AM, 5 p.m.). Albert's son, Kenny, is one of the "Sports Forum" hosts, but the younger Albert won't be on the show today, because he is calling a Baltimore Skipjacks game. . . . Stan "The Fan" Charles' baseball show needs a new home. Though Charles' weekly "Hoops" will continue through the basketball season on WCAO (600 AM), the baseball talk show doesn't fit into the station's new gospel format. But unless someone is having a buy-one-get-one-free deal on AM stations here, Charles' options for the spring are limited. . . . Sun deputy managing editor Martin Kaiser and sports editor Jack Gibbons will be on "Sports Line" Tuesday on WBAL (1090 AM, 6 p.m.). You might want to call and suggest to them that a certain TV-radio columnist is doing a terrific job and deserves a big raise, corner office, personal parking space and private secretary.


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