Williams (left) and Fainaru-Wada spent 15 months on their award-winning BALCO investigation.
By Terry McDonell, SI Managing Editor
On the June 23, 1969, cover of Sports Illustrated is the silhouette of an athlete surrounded by an assortment of pills -- including anabolic steroids -- and a hypodermic needle. The headline reads, DRUGS -- A THREAT TO SPORTS. SI has stayed on the story for 36 years and eight covers (below).
Totally Juiced, Tom Verducci's piece in the June 3, 2002, SI, so comprehensively broke down the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the national pastime that it changed the sport and stirred the legislative halls of Washington. In response to the exposé -- and to the headlines it generated -- major league players agreed for the first time to undergo random drug testing and lawmakers introduced legislation to reclassify performance-enhancing steroid precursors such as Andro as controlled substances. Most recently, The Liars Club, by S.L. Price (SI, Dec. 26, 2005-Jan. 2, 2006), painted the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball as a sad clown show in which Sammy Sosa used a translator, a weepy Mark McGwire looked guilty from the start, commissioner Bud Selig and his staff appeared by turn duplicitous, uncooperative and clueless, and Rafael Palmeiro, who swore he had never used steroids, would soon be suspended for doing just that.
Now comes SI's excerpt from Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which starts on page 38. The authors are investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle who, after 15 months of digging, broke the story of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in December 2004. Their first BALCO piece exposed the tiny nutritional supplements company that was, according to secret grand jury testimony, supplying elite athletes with banned drugs. Subsequent pieces in the Chronicle unveiled BALCO owner Victor Conte as a steroid Svengali and told of coaches and trainers who connected star baseball players and track and field athletes to the drugs. At the center of Fainaru-Wada and Williams's reporting, and their book, is Barry Bonds, whose phenomenal late-career performance has him threatening the home run marks of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
Fainaru-Wada and Williams interviewed more than 200 sources, speaking with some every day, and their reporting has won them the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award, the George Polk Award for Sports Reporting and the White House Correspondents' Association's Edgar A. Poe Award. This does not mean that their stories were always the favorites of hometown readers. "We knew that our coverage was not going to be popular out at the ballpark," says Phil Bronstein, the editor of the Chronicle, "but we also knew that there was the issue of role models and the growing number of kids taking steroids in high school. We kept our eye on that ball."
Verducci interviewed Fainaru-Wada and Williams for SI.com's story on the book, and video of their conversation is also available online. Additional pieces from the Game of Shadows will appear in the Chronicle, documenting steroid abuses in track and field as well as baseball. The first of these will run on Sunday, March 12.