Steroids are illegal -- it's that simple
People from all walks of life are using steroids ... and breaking the law
Posted: Tuesday April 27, 2004 3:14PM; Updated: Tuesday April 27, 2004 5:09PM
After years of head-in-the-sand denials, the sports world -- that la-la land of fun and games -- seems to be hyperventilating as the debate rages over steroid usage in and out of the locker room. The frat member struggling most to catch its breath is Major League Baseball, as it ventures into what soon may be known as the Asterisk Era.
Check out the latest headline. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News last weekend, indicted Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) founder and owner, Victor Conte, allegedly told an Internal Revenue Service investigator that he gave previously undetectable designer steroids to 27 athletes, including baseball sluggers Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, as well as sprint queen Marion Jones. The stories were based on a document obtained by the newspapers summarizing an Internal Revenue Service investigator's interview of Conte during a search of his company last Sept. 3, at which time Conte volunteered the athletes' names.
Conte's lawyers claim the statements attributed to the BALCO founder are fabrications and that Conte made no such statements. A Conte attorney accused federal investigators of leaking potentially damaging information against his client to taint the jury pool. Attorney Troy Ellerman told SI.com: "I can tell you this, they didn't record [the interview]. They didn't record it for obvious reasons. The federal government has 10 times the amount of money that these county agencies have, and yet county agencies record statements.
"They went in there with 40 cops, a helicopter and 19 cars and they couldn't bring a recorder with them? It was a monologue, not a dialogue and they wanted to get their spin on it. They did. And now they are putting it out there.
"It is crazy to me that they are leaking this information in order to taint the jury pool, but I guess they are. If they had any confidence in their case they would just keep quiet, but they are not."
The accusation against Conte, which obviously still remains to be proven, comes after Attorney General John Ashcroft strode on stage to announce indictments in the BALCO investigation. And after President Bush earlier, in his State of the Union speech, warned that "some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. ... [Steroid use] sends the wrong message.''
So if athletes are breaking the law and using a performance-enhancing drug, something needs to be done. Role model or not, it shouldn't matter.
The fact is athletes aren't the only knuckleheads bulking up on 'roids. If you believe law enforcement and doping experts, the sub-population includes police officers, firemen and military folks.
As with athletes, it's said there are a few offenders. But they exist. Charles Swanson, who a decade ago co-authored an article on the subject that appeared in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, says it remains a problem and will continue to unless the policing landscape changes in some fundamental way.
"From the police standpoint, it goes something like this,'' says Swanson, retired director of the Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. "'The bad guys go off to prison and get bigger, stronger every day. That is all they got to do -- workout. And we're out here shagging calls. We got to get bigger and stronger, 'cause these guys are going to be bigger, badder when they come out of there.
"And then you got some officers out there who have been described as the 'Pepsi, me-now generation.' Everything is instant gratification. They don't want to grunt and sweat to get home the right way.''
Sounds typical of what we hear and read about jocks, right?
We're left scuffling with enough unresolved conflicts to fill McCovey Cove. Why is it of paramount importance that athletes be drug tested, even if the testing programs are for the most part facades to deflect criticism? Where is the cry to test other icons and role models, like rock stars, writers and even politicians?
Or why, as University of Texas professor John Hoberman whimsically suggests, hasn't anyone bothered to ask Mr. Ashcroft if steroid abuse amongst policemen and firemen might be as important as abuse among longball hitters? At the very least you wonder if there isn't hypocrisy at play here.
"There are these rather silly notions that athletes are supposed to be role models, which is where a lot of this nonsense originates,'' offers Hoberman, who has authored several books on performance-enhancing drugs and ethics in sports medicine. "If this were Keith Richards, nobody would give a damn. But the fact is, the whole society is held hostage to the idea that high-performance athletes are supposed to be role models and offer leadership to the society, which is a mistake. But there is so much of that in our tradition that, for the time being, we're tied to it whether we want to be or not. It doesn't even matter that sometimes the sports page reads like the thug-of-the-month club. And it has been like that for a long time.''
More recently, the performance-enhancing drug saga has attracted a steady run of headlines. That's led to a clean-up-the-games call from Washington, which is good. But again, let's take a broader view than some sculpted athletes and the perverse societal rush for instant gratification and delve into what's so really wrong.
Hey, it's illegal. A well-respected prosecutor who has worked steroid cases says the sports world still doesn't get it.
"They're hyperventilated over the use in baseball, not because of the danger that it presents, but because of the skewing of the playing field,'' said the federal prosecutor, who preferred not to be identified. "That is what causes it -- the questioning of the records, purity of the game. They could care less about the fact it is illegal.
"The people who object do so because, 'Hey, he is cheating the game.' It is one thing to break the law, but to cheat in baseball -- that is serious stuff.''
Breaking the law is what really should matter. Role model or not.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.