Steroids main ingredients in many a winning recipe

Commentary

October 23, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

THERE IS THE possibility of a steroids scandal among the world's greatest athletes. Ho-hum. Yawn. Big deal. Nobody really cares anymore. Steroids have become as much a part of the NFL as helmets and shoulder pads, and as much a part of baseball as hot dogs.

There have been drug scandals before. Former U.S. Olympic Committee drug control director Dr. Wade Exum once released documents that implied U.S. athletes tested positive on more than 100 occasions from 1988 to 2000, but only a handful were barred from competing, and 19 went on to win medals. The NFL has had its Lyle Alzados, and baseball has had its Jose Cansecos.

And not much has changed.

It won't because there is too much involved, from million-dollar investments to packed stadiums to championship trophies and gold medals. We're in the era of shortcuts, in which an athlete can get just as many different kinds of steroids as ice cream, and masking agents provide great insurance policies.

If Major League Baseball wanted to make a change, why did it wait until this season to develop drug test procedures? If the USOC wanted to make a statement, it would have never let sprinter Carl Lewis off the hook after he tested positive three times for ephedrine at the 1988 Olympic trials. The NBA drug testing policies are an absolute joke.

So when the story broke recently about a new steroids scandal that could involve as many as 40 athletes, were we surprised? Or did we ask ourselves, "What else is new?"

Paul Melia, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, said America's four major sports leagues -- the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL -- are way behind professional sports leagues in Europe in testing.

Said Dr. Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State and author of several books on drugs in sports: "Why would owners want extensive programs independent of their leagues? For one, it would be far too expensive. These owners know their fan base and the players. They know there is nothing pure about their game.

"When was the last time you heard of a franchise-caliber player testing positive? They may be guilty, but it won't be announced. And you think an owner is going to give an outside group control of that kind of situation. That would be very foolish. Notice that this investigation was prompted by a disgruntled coach, not some agency.

"You go to a game, what do baseball fans want to see? They want home runs or some guy blowing fastballs over the plate," he said. "If they want to do something about the drug problem in sports, bring in federal agents, let them set up sting operations. I don't think major league sports has the stomach for it."

Admit it. We've all wondered about San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and steroids. It seemed like he blew up in size overnight. And we have the same question about New York Yankees strong man Jason Giambi.

Both players have been subpoenaed by a San Francisco grand jury in an investigation of a sports nutrition company run by Victor Conte, who allegedly may have been the supplier of a "designer" steroid called tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), which promotes muscle mass and recovery rates during training.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski allegedly was a client of Conte. Former star NFL quarterbacks John Elway and Dan Marino were names listed on the company's Web site.

But this hasn't been a topic of conversation at a lot of bars. We've become immune to steroids stories because if some high-priced, egotistical athlete wants to inject some substance into his body that turns him into the Incredible Hulk on Sundays, God bless him.

Just sack the quarterback, please.

It's not the fans' fault. They really have no say over the matter. But we are sending the wrong message to children. The cheaters keep cheating, and right now they're winning.

"It used to be discover your genetic limits and then work hard to improve," said Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, a clinical and sports psychologist at the Stanford University Medical Center and author of Your Performing Edge. "Now, it's discover your limits, then change your genetics.

"I'm not a scientist, but I understand it's very easy for these chemists to make steroids, and if you change a few molecules, it's very easy for them to go undetected. These chemists keep coming up with new drugs. There is a different race going on, chemists going against chemists. It's the war of the chemists. It's out of control and it's getting worse."

Dr. Anthony Tommasello, an assistant professor in the office of substance abuse study at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, tells stories of how players are substituting their urine with others through catheters before taking drug tests.

"The stakes are huge; multimillion-dollar contracts are involved," Tommasello said. "You have to be better, you need an edge and you have to be clean. They will go to almost any extent."

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