SI Vault
Edited by Richard Demak
July 08, 1991
Sour Sweetener
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July 08, 1991


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While former NFL lineman Lyle Alzado was voicing his belief that steroid use helped cause his cancer (page 20), another athlete was telling a U.S. district court in Harris-burg, Pa., how steroids have ravaged his body. "Superstar' Billy Graham, 48, a pro wrestling champion in the 1970s, said that steroids had damaged his liver and caused his hips and ankles to degenerate, leaving him crippled. He made these statements while testifying last week at the trial of Dr. George Zahorian III, an osteopath and urological surgeon from suburban Harrisburg, who had been charged with distributing steroids and with distributing prescription painkillers for nontherapeutic purposes.

During the four-day trial Zahorian, who has worked as a ringside doctor at pro wrestling matches in Pennsylvania since the mid-'70s, testified that between November 1988 and March '90 he sold steroids to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) owner Vince McMahon and to many pro wrestlers, including two of the WWF's top drawing cards, Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Last Thursday, Zahorian was convicted on 12 of 14 counts, and he now faces a sentence of up to 44 years in prison and $3 million in fines. Neither McMahon nor any of the wrestlers were charged, because until February, when a new federal law went into effect, it was legal to buy steroids.

During the trial, Zahorian told the court that he didn't know how many wrestlers had bought steroids from him, but he did say that he usually dispensed the drugs to 15 to 20 wrestlers at the events he worked. According to Graham and another former champion, Bruno Sammartino, 90% to 95% of the WWF's wrestlers use steroids to build muscle mass.

In addition to Graham, four pro wrestlers, including Piper, told the court about their steroid use and their contacts with Zahorian. Despite their testimony, WWF vice-president Basil DeVito Jr., said, "I'm not acknowledging that anything about the trial has anything to do with us." And Jim Herd, executive vice-president of Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the other major promoter of pro wrestling, said after the trial, "I consider steroids to be like alcohol. I'm not condoning it. But these are grownup, intelligent adults."

One wrestler who did not appear at the trial was Hogan. Days before the trial began, Judge William Caldwell quashed the subpoena compelling Hogan to testify and dropped the charge against Zahorian that pertained to Hogan because of "private and personal matters that should be protected." It wasn't immediately clear why Hogan's privacy was protected when other wrestlers had to testify as government witnesses.

Hogan is an example of the new kind of champion that the WWF and WCW have pushed upon wrestling fans. The more muscular wrestlers, like Hogan, Lex Luger and The Ultimate Warrior, are promoted, while less muscular types, like Ric Flair and Bobby Eaton, are being phased out. The WWF and WCW haven't just turned a blind eye to the use of steroids. By making stars of certain wrestlers, the promoters have actually encouraged the use of steroids. "McMahon has made a lot of guys very rich," says Terry Funk, a former pro wrestling champion, "but he may also be taking years off their lives."


A coach loves football so much he'll work for free

Last February, five months after he won $4.45 million in the Florida lottery, Tampa accountant Scott Smith went job hunting. "I realized that the money had given me a rare opportunity to do whatever I wanted with my life," says Smith, 36, who quit his job. "And what I wanted to do was coach football."

Although Smith, who was an offensive lineman at Miami (Ohio) University in the early '70s, had no coaching experience, his résumé included one entry that made him attractive to potential employers: He would work for free. The Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League had just moved to Florida from Pittsburgh, and it was one team that could meet Smith's price. Smith met Storm head coach Fran Curci through Curci's daughter, Angela Strauss, who had worked with Smith. Curci and Smith had breakfast in March, and as soon as Curci learned of Smith's salary requirements, he hired him as a personnel scout and special teams coach.

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