My February 1 column about PEDs generated nearly 10,000 e-mails within a week of the posting. We did our best to read every single one of them. Whether readers agreed with the premise behind the piece or not, at the very least, the majority appreciated that I wrote it. If you were one of those people, thanks for passing along those kind words.
What follows is more of a whirlpool of ideas, thoughts, information and links that were generated from that column — it goes in about 20 different directions, but it's always interesting. Some of the e-mails were edited for space. We stayed away from any complimentary or critical e-mails and concentrated on the ones that advanced the discussion in some way. And at the tail end of the piece, we put together a collection of the best reader ideas to fix the PED problem in sports.
(And as you're about to see, just about everyone thinks there's a problem.)
City: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
We need to come up with a better word than "Hate." Why?
I have an 18 year old son going off to play Division 1 lacrosse next year. He has built himself from a 150 pound freshman to a 215 pound man. He got up early, stayed late and pretty much willed himself to be a big, strong, fast menace on the field. I am incredibly proud of him and couldn't love him any more.
So my wife turned to me in the middle of Lance's disgraceful interview and said "So you think [our son] could be using steroids?" My immediate response "NFW!" But of course, deep down (in the place we don't talk about at parties) I wonder. Hmmm
I HATE* that I would even think that and that is why I HATE* all these cheaters.
*You're the writer — get us a better word to use — and keep questioning everyone until testing gets better.
Name: Dan C.
In The Wire when Marlo is about to begin his war with Avon to become the top dealer, he is warned "Anyone that wore that crown either ends up in jail or dead." Marlo's response is one of my favorite lines from the series, "At least they got to wear it."
We question why athletes take PEDs despite the risks of getting caught, suspended and losing lots of money and fans, but is it possible they have that same mindset? To them, maybe they know full well they will get caught eventually, but the Bonds, A-Rods and Armstrongs of the world just don't care and simply want to experience that joy of being on top of their game, even if it is just for a moment? If so, at least to me it makes them to appear more human instead of being dumb and naive, thinking they are invinicible and would never be caught.
City: Shelby, Ohio
Name: Mark Vogt
I used to believe in "Santa" until 1993. My well respected high school physics teacher pointed out that ZERO football players in the '60s looked like most of the players now. PEDs!
City: Greenville, South Carolina
Floyd Mayweather has been publicly lobbying for Olympic style drug testing for years. I have read articles in the past blasting him for this and saying he has no right to demand this, he must think he is bigger than the sport. If an athlete in any sport had a right to worry about the opponent doping it would be an athlete in boxing, a sport in which two guys punch each other in the body and head to inflict as much punishment as possible. As soon as other fighters start to make these demands we immediately see several boxers fail tests. Hate him or love him, it is only appropriate to applaud him for beginning efforts to help clean up his sport and protect other athletes.
I remember going into the 2011 season when Pujols had finally had enough of steroid accusations. He volunteered to pee in a cup once a day, EVERY day, to prove that he was clean. Why don't more GREAT athletes do this? It removes all doubts and shifts this public finger-pointing to their opponents that won't be as forthright. Honestly, if Revis, a FREAKISHLY gifted athlete with no prior off-field incidents and returning from injury, pees in a cup daily, and some Saturday morning after a Thursday night game, his test pops up trace amounts of marijuana, but never once comes up with a hint of steroid use will anyone care?
If these guys are genuinely pissed off about their peers getting away with cheating, why don't more athletes take to the offensive? F you, other teams' players, I'm clean and I'll prove it every day I'm getting paid millions of dollars. Let the public have the natural reaction of "Power hitters W, X, and Y all passed daily drug tests without fail, but player Z still refuses to take them, what's he hiding?" Most athletes have team-staffed nutritionists that can document literally every food/drink/medicine that goes into their body to justify any random day-to-day spikes in various levels. What's the downside for a TRULY clean player?
City: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Name: Jesse Heaton
You talk about whether or not you'd take drugs if you were a pro athlete in our current situation. The answer is: If you were smart you would.
The prisoner's dilemma explains why.
If you don't know what the person in the next cell is doing, then you pick the option that gives the smallest chance you get screwed. In our sports culture? Until I know the next guy isn't doping, I take the drugs and make sure I'm not going to get beat out for a job just because I'm not doping. Which means? We need to either eliminate the benefits of doping, or make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
City: San Antonio
Name: Aaron Wheeler
NO ONE CARES. Except some old white guys who who think Whitey Ford's vast collection of spitball tricks are a great anecdote from the golden age of sport, but steroids are an indelible stain on blah blah blah.
McGwire and Sosa saved baseball. Their home run race made fans care again after the '94 strike, and they should be first ballot hall of famers.
People have been cheating at sports since we invented them. Glove tampering in boxing, the '51 Dodgers stealing signs, the East German Women's (Anything) Team, it goes on and on and on. We make some pious, hypocritical noise when somebody gets caught, but the real reason we don't do widespread testing is because, in all likelihood, EVERYBODY is cheating. You said it yourself, these guys are hyper-competitive, and there are millions and millions of dollars at stake. Why wouldn't you cheat?
Look at athletes from the '70s and look at the guys today. That's not natural. Better nutrition and conditioning can account for some of it, sure, but really? Remember when nobody in the NFL weighed three hundred pounds?
We all know there's behind the scenes chicanery involved in professional sports, and we put up with it because we enjoy the games and the leagues enjoy our money. Either you can make your peace with the fact that these men inject dangerous substances into their bodies and shorten their lifespans in order to better entertain you (and make themselves some hefty compensation in the process) or you can give up on professional sports. But don't wring your hands and pretend things have ever been clean. Because they haven't.
City: Washington, D.C.
Name: Rosiland Jordan
As a political reporter who's always being asked why my clan can't be tougher on politicians, I want to ask you a similar question: Why can't sports journalism be tougher on athletes, team owners, and the sports industry?
Political reporters are always accused of being "in the tank" in order to get access or favorable treatment from a politician, or to snag an invite to a cocktail party in Georgetown. Hmm. I don't get in the tank for anyone, I don't do cocktail parties (much less get invited to them), and my employer wouldn't look kindly upon it anyway.
Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of cable and satellite TV/radio, many more people who didn't go to Ivy League schools are in DC, casting aspersions on what politicians are and are not doing. There is a heightened sense of "someone is watching" in this town. It's early, but I think it's a healthier journalistic climate and ultimately better for the USA.
Does sports journalism need a similar shakeup — a broadening of the pool of people who practice the craft, who didn't grow up idolizing athletes to the point of never developing the objectivity they need to be journalists? Do major news organizations need to focus less on the entertainment aspect of pro sports, and more on how the business of pro sports is conducted?
Covering pro sports from the latter perspective might make it easier to "hold to account" all the participants in the business, including the fans — who want "bigger, higher, faster" no matter what. Certainly as we are learning about the dementia that seems to be affecting more and more retired NFL players, or about the routine doping that seemingly make cycling and baseball possible, it wouldn't hurt to try — and it might get our collective heads out of the sky (or somewhere else).
City: Joliet, Illinois
I am a 45-year-old middle school teacher who has lived a rich and varied life as an athlete and high level fitness trainer for many years. I have firsthand experience with some of the techniques, methodologies and concerns that you have written about in your article. As possibly the states' top amateur bodybuilder in 1989, I reached an extremely high level of fitness at an early age. I wonder today if all of those miles I put on my body, both internally and externally have resulted today in a variety of orthopedic break downs. It has also provided me with a rather unique perspective on the issue of drugs in sports.
I laugh at the system in virtually all sports exactly for the reasons that you so accurately describe in your article. You have it spot on. Guys do NOT achieve gains or performance like this clean. I can't say that I feel sorry for the guys getting caught, but I can say that "I understand". Any of the methods guys are using change you as a person the entire playing field or paradigm changes and not just when you are on a cycle the entire level of personal expectation and confidence level is raised pretty much forever so when someone says "ah, not a big problem in my sport", I laugh. The stuff will make even the unlikely athlete in an unlikely sport better at what they do. If it didn't they wouldn't take it.
You raise valid points about the fairness of such a system of testing, and that of "optimizing performance". What is right? What is not right? An athlete has likely trained all their lives to do what it is that they do, and then all of a sudden they find themselves in a position that they have to make a choice to keep doing what they are doing, or stop because they refuse to take anything. That is unfair as life so often is. It would be a drag to train your whole life to ride in the Tour de France and then find out that the only way you are going to race in it is if you are taking what everyone else is taking. Likely you are competitive enough to take whatever it is that needs to be taken to win if you weren't that competitive you wouldn't be out there. Guys who rode clean wouldn't even be able to ride with guys who rode dirty because the difference in performance is simply that great I don't believe that people understand that there IS NO comparison between the two. This leads me to believe that there MIGHT have been a handful of clean riders in any of the Tours of recent years, and those wouldn't have been on the tour long because they would be like children racing men. Your points are valid, and you are right to be as suspicious as you are.
City: Wolverhampton, England
Name: Glyn Sheldon
During the Murray vs Djokovic Aussie Open Final I was redirected to this article by a friend it basically details how Djokovic has a pod which helps him to decrease lactic acid and fill up on oxygen rich red blood cells. After reading your article I felt sick!!! I realized how many of the sports stars that I love are probably cheating in some way or another and that it's all going to come to a head at some point in the future, when sports fans won't take being lied to and cheated and still be expected to pay for season tickets, merchandise and NBA League Pass.
City: Los Angeles
Here's a question I'm sure you have an answer for, and I'd like to hear it:
If a great player suffers a horrible injury, how is taking a PED to enhance the recovery any different from having surgery? I'm serious. They are both means to an end to get a player back on the field. If you start mentioning all time records/numbers, then we should discount everyone who has had the benefit of modern surgery. In 20 years, when microfracture surgery is routine as a root canal, should we put an asterisk next to an athlete because their careers were easily extended? What to make of a player like Terrell Davis who didn't have that benefit?
City: Ithaca, New York
Name: Brendan Vogt
As a 19 year-old die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, I was raised on the myth of McGwire and I quickly saw him become exposed as a liar and a cheat. Frankly, PED's just don't surprise me anymore. They don't even always hurt me, they are something I come to expect. I didn't bat an eyelash when I saw the Armstrong news, didn't even read an article on this deer antler spray crap. Its old news, it doesn't surprise me.
But there is an exception. I am afraid of more comprehensive drug testing in the NBA. I am terrified of it. LeBron James is an athlete in a class of his own, watching him play basketball is jaw dropping, its awe inspiring. In fact, my NBA fandom resides with no team, and no city. It resides with LeBron James as an individual. I want to tell my kids I watched this happen. I want to tell my grand kids about watching LeBron chase MJ's legacy down. I want to tell them that I saw just one athlete rewrite history without the help of PED's. Is it ok that I don't want to know? Is it ok that I'd rather not speculate on LeBron? Or does my dream of telling my grandchildren about Game 6 in Boston require learning the truth?
I'm in a 20-team ultra competitive Fantasy Baseball League and the impending blood testing was the talk of the winter BEFORE the latest scandal. We all have a "Oh Shit They are Blood Testing" do not draft list which we are guarding like nuke codes. Please ask TMR about this in your yearly pod. Don't let me down Simmons!
City: Old Greenwich, Connecticut
Name: John S.
There is one thing you fail to mention that no one seems to accept, and maybe because you don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, the reality is, you like many of your peers fail to inquire or even acknowledge that maybe the golden era of your formative sports years — the '70s and '80s were also COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY TAINTED BY PED USE.
I grew up just outside of Worcester, Mass. I played competitive high school football from 1982-1985 and teenagers on my team were shooting up for an edge. When I attended a small liberal arts college in Vermont, the football program was non-scholarship with freshman and varsity teams, and no one on the team had even a 100th of a percent chance of even sniffing an NFL roster as a special teamer. There were guys on the freshman football team taking steroids — on a Division 3 team in a league that didn't even have truly recognize a champion. While the success steroids enabled them to have may have resulted in some short lived popularity and even a night with a pretty girl or two, what they had to gain pales in comparison to the great athletes of that era and the next.
So, if we really want to talk straight, we better be prepared for what we find. I think we take it only so far with PEDs because, deep down, there are some heroes from our youth that despite the advent of YouTube, remind us of a time when we believed in Santa Claus. And in an age where your next door neighbor could be threatening to dismember someone on a social media site, maybe that's OK.
Name: Russ Carreiro
You know what I would like to see? Someone other than Jason Whitlock calling out all the reporters, Lupica especially, who were totally complicit in all of this. Anyone who wrote about a "juiced baseball" (yep, it wasn't steriods, it was the baseballs ) story or the idiots who wrote the Andro story like McGwire got that big and bad on something a teenager sold him at GNC. Lupica wrote a glowing book, complete with notes to his child and just an amazing level of head in the sand nonsense and yet he was one of the first to crucify Bonds. He celebrated roid use and even wrote an apologist book on the subject and now hes in the frontlines keeping guys out of the HOF. I get athletes juicing. I get teams looking the other way and I get the sport itself doing that too (not excusing it either), but I cant wrap my head around guys like Lupica or Mitch Albom who celebrated this nonsense and asked no questions until Bonds decided to roid rage his way into the history books.
City: Boulder, Colorado
Name: Mike S.
In talking about your article with my roommate (who is a professional cyclist), his biggest frustration comes from the ignorance of the general public on the topic of drug testing. So many people are now under the impression that cycling is a dirty sport because it WAS a dirty sport and they fixed it and caught so many people. Now they have the biological passport, which makes cycling one of the hardest sports to cheat/dope in.
Meanwhile, the testing in the major American sports is a joke. Most people don't know this because it isn't mentioned enough, if at all. I'd like to see a breakdown of every sport's testing policies (frequency, out of season testing, how much notification players get before a test, penalties, loopholes, what they do and don't test for, etc). This information should be pushed into our faces by the media so we don't have to look for it. If everyone is made aware of how much of a joke the testing is, maybe something can come from it. Maybe not, but if it becomes a constantly reviewed topic in the media, the leagues are more likely to be forced into action. You did a good job pointing out some loopholes (testosterone window, four test max in NBA), but only the 12 people who read all 17,874 words in your article saw that.
You should use your influence to help the average fans clean up our sports. You are the best representative for us (that's coming from a NY sports fan). Please tell everyone how bad the testing is in the major sports. I want to be able to watch sports and be blown away by performances without immediately assuming it could not have happened without cheating. It's a joke and it sucks. Not to mention the message the leagues send to kids by turning a blind eye.
City: Redondo Beach, California
Name: Terrel Pruett
The main issue for me is the incredible double standard in the sports press (Internet AND traditional) between the NFL and MLB. MLB IS now tainted we DO see everything in baseball through jaundiced eyes. Because, whenever a player tests positive, or whenever there's a scandal such as this week's A-Rod thing, ESPN.com, SI.com, foxsports.com, and every traditional newspaper columnist essentially rips MLB and the player (s) involved a gaping new one. "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!!!" But the NFL suspends several players every year, and they come back from their 4 week suspensions (much shorter as a percentage of the season than MLB's basic penalty, by the way) to absolutely no repercussions, no commentary, nothing. No hand-wringing, no comdemning players to Hall of Fame leprousy nothing.
Imagine the sport was baseball instead of football and imagine it was the World Series instead of the Super Bowl. Now imagine it was Matt Kemp instead of Ray Lewis who allegedly took deer antler spray. Now imagine the deluge of outrage outrage, by the way, that was definitely not present this week at the Roger Goodell Ass Kissing Party. It wouldn't have anything to do with the NFL being the biggest media cash cow there is, would it? It wouldn't have anything to do with ESPN, Fox, NBC, and CBS being TERRIFIED that they'll be left without an NFL tit to suck, right? Naaah, that couldn't be it because that would make the American sports press nothing but a bunch of pimps, right?
City: Los Angeles
Name: Sam Yu
My take on PEDs who cares? It's their life. If they want to juice, let them. Now, let's be honest, wasn't baseball more fun when everyone was roiding? Don't you want to see things done that's never been done before?
If you care so much about the history and purity, you're a sap. Let's go back to wooden tennis rackets, canvas shoes, and a genuine pigskin for a football. Give me a break. Better yet, let's get rid of advances in medicine. No more Tommy John surgeries. No more repairing torn ACLs. If you sustain any such injury, you have to retire. If it wasn't available at the time of Jackie Robinson, then it shouldn't exist now. Get real. So what if PEDs have long term consequences? Are we going to outlaw cigarettes and alcohol, too?
Look at retired athletes. They're like ghosts. They've served their function in life, and all they are left with are memories while waiting for the day of their demise. Some choose to do it sooner by taking their own life. Point is, this is what these people chose to do. It's their life. They're the ones willing to sacrifice their long term health. What does it matter to you? It shatters your sense of innocence? Get over it.
And another thing, people act like if you pop PEDs, you're guaranteed to become a hall of famer. But let's be real. I could take all the steroids in the world, and I'd probably only hit about 50 home runs as opposed to the 70 that Bonds hit that one season. See how laughable that is? Everyone needs to get off their high horse and just legalize everything. You think rubbing tiger semen all over your face will help you tackle? So be it.
In your article about PED profiling, you asked the most important question, but didn't answer it. "Who are we protecting?" We're protecting ourselves. If we begin to assume that every exceptional performance is or might be tainted by PEDs, then we begin to immediately reject any and every exceptional performance. And then, all we are left rooting for is mediocrity and terribleness. We have to accept the lie, because otherwise the concept of sport is reduced to a reality show waiting for the next butt-fumble. It sucks that the McGwires/Bonds/Sosas/etc of the world took us here, but here we are.
City: Jacksonville, Florida
He played baseball during an era in which PEDs of all types were widely used, according to a government study.
He put up the best power numbers of his storied career in his late-30s while chasing one of baseball's most hallowed marks.
One of his teammates has openly admitted to using steroids and claims that multiple teammates for every organization he played for were also doing so.
Do you realize that the person I just described is Hank Aaron?
City: Somerville, Massachusetts
I am an amateur athlete. Played competitively through high school. Baseball into high school, soccer all the way through high school, and track for a couple years in high school. My senior year I tore the miniscus in my left knee, had it scoped and cleaned up. I played intramurals in college and started running after college — several long distance relays with friends, a few 5ks here and there. I'm now 29 years old. I don't run anymore because of my knee, still play some social sports, mainly soccer, once or twice week. Volleyball a few times in the summer. As objectively as I can I can tell you that I am a solid athlete. I was one of the better on any of my teams. I never got caught stealing bases. I jump well. I ran 400m sprints in under 50 seconds. I ran a 5k in under 20 minutes. I, at one point ,could run 15 miles at a sub 8min/mile pace.
And now? Now I often feel like an old man. At the end of the day, or when it rains, my knee aches. I haven't thrown a baseball in over a decade but I still can't wash my back with my right hand due to the loss of mobility in my right shoulder. A semi-comprehensive list of the joints I have that now crack at the slightest provocation includes both knees, both ankles, both elbows, my neck and back, every knuckle on both hands and both of my big toes. Obviously I've never had access to an elite training staff but I've always taken pretty good care of my body. Stretching after runs, eating (more or less) well. Fortunately I'm still young enough to have all of my sports memories near the surface of my mind because by the time I'm fifty and need to walk with a cane with two new knees and one new hip I'm going to wonder whether or not it was worth it. And so now these guys expect me not to wonder how the F it is they keep themselves going?
(Of course the other end is, how the F do we expect them to play 16, 82 or 162 games every year without a little help?)
Excellent PED article. I agree with what you wrote. Also wondering if time won't condemn many of these athletes to miserable unhealthy lives after 50. Like the East German olympic athletes discovered cancer, hormonal problems, failing organs, infertility, birth defects in their children. Athletes like to think that won't happen to them now, but they probably thought that in the 1970s as well. Truth is we just don't have a large enough sample size to see what the recent PED craze will do to these men and women (and their children).
Link to SI article talking about the current East German problem.
City: Baraboo, Wisconsin
Name: Brian Ellis
Great article on PEDs; it was one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking articles on that subject I've seen. But I kept expecting to find some mention of professional golfers — you know, those guys on Tour who not so many years ago averaged about 260-270 yards on their drives who now average 310, 320 yards or the ones who used to take driver, 3-wood, wedge to reach a 550 yard par-5 who now hit it in two with a driver-iron.
For some reason golf has been exempted from all discussion of PEDs that I at least have seen. I've never seen the first suggestion from a major sports news organization that any Tour golfer uses any PEDs. We're supposed to believe it's just the equipment that's done. I don't think so. These guys know what's out there and is used in other sports. They have to know what PEDs did to home run records and they certainly know how important distance is to golf. Do they all just ignore that information when it comes to themselves and their sport?
City: Los Angeles
The most underreported PED story has to be the PGA. This is a sport that hands out million dollar purses for an average tournament. It's also a sport that changed over 10 years from a sport where strength and power has increasingly given players a competitive advantage. Which is why that in less than 15 years, pro golf went from being dominated by middle-aged white guys with guts and cigarettes in their hand to one ruled by ripped, athletic 24 yr olds who are actual, serious athletes.
City: Cocoa Beach, Florida
Name: Dan R.
The chart says it all.
City: Greencastle, Indiana
Name: Tom Dickinson
I'm a college professor (retiring this semester after 40-some years of teaching) at a Division III small liberal arts college — DePauw University in Indiana. Our women's basketball team is 21-0 and ranked #1 in the polls. On Wednesday and Saturday nights here in central Indiana my wife and I have had the chance to watch some of their home games on this joyous run.
For the last decade I've taught a host of student athletes here at DePauw — men and women — in everything from women's field hockey, to men's and women's soccer, to men's football, women's volleyball, men's and women's swimming and diving, track and field, and now to the newest sport for us, men's lacrosse. During that time I've watched my women swimmers get up up at 5:30 a.m. in the dark to go to the pool to do their morning workout and then breakfast and getting ready for class(and maybe a 20-minute power nap) before showing up for the start of a grueling academic day. I've watched my students sacrifice their social lives for long bus rides all over the country, taking their laptops and their textbooks with them along with their pillows and iPhones.
And during all that time I've seen no head-size changes, no massive blowups over the summer like they've been sucking on a water hose. And when it comes to rehab from an injury — long grueling hours and more time with trainers than their room mates. Just athletes competing, and competing often at a very high level because they love the game, love the competition, love the relationships both now and in the future. But it's only one part of their lives — a very important one — but their identity is defined by so much more than a ball or a field.
You and the rest of sport should step back away from the pros and their peds, back from the cynicism that is epidemic today, back from the "cup list", and find a small Division III school and go watch kids compete. Buy some popcorn, peruse the program, watch the kids on the bench and on the court. Marvel at the quality of the coaches. Cheer for one side or the other. And stay for the whole contest because the world won't turn on this athletic event and it shouldn't. Glad you wrote the column. Wish that it would stir the waters but I kinda doubt that (my cynicism coming to the fore). Now go remind yourself why you like sports and catch a "real" game.
City: Washington, D.C.
Name: Kevin Hanley
You missed one point about why the unions are reluctant to accept stricter drug testing. If the testing would ONLY test for PED's, they would accept it. But they want to protect the marijuana users in the league. And the stricter drug testing would catch way more weed smokers than PED user's.
City: Landenberg, Pennsylvania
Most of the "banned" substances these guys are using are for recovery from the tremendous beating they take for our entertainment every weekent. How can so many people be outraged by this, in many cases, necessary use of a chemical edge to maintain the elite level of entertainment we demand week in and week out? The football players now more than ever know the consequences of their sport on the body, and are still lining up to play special teams. Why should we not let them take the same health risks if they choose to, in order to play every week? Why is their such a BS moral divide between the violence and the chemistry? Genetic doping is not science fiction anymore, and it is not far off from being a reality in professional sports — how will you test for that? Demand DNA samples?
This is all just games and entertainment — why is it anyone's business how they take care of their bodies in order to feed the machine? When we have our government spending millions of tax dollars on pursuing athletes for taking drugs, which is all happening in fantasy world, haven't we gone too far reacting in the other way? IT'S SPORTS FOR PETE'S SAKE. Let them use whatever the hell they want to compete.
City: Venice, California
Name: Eman Laerton
Andy Reid's son died with a bag of syringes and steroids in his room. This was reported on December 17th. There has been NOTHING about it since. You even forgot to mention it in your repentance column on PEDs. I dig your writings, but dude, you're complicit in this too.
Just wanted to mention that, as a die-hard Eagles fan, I was pretty disturbed by the story about Andy Reid's son. The tragedy of his death overshadowed the rest of it of course, but imagine if he had not died. The fact is a member of the Eagles strength training staff was caught, in training camp, with a large supply of steroids and nobody really pushed the issue. I don't know how much bigger a red flag there could be.
City: Bangor, Maine
Do you think that this moral PED crisis sports is enduring is really a product of the sports culture in this country? I'm not talking about how kids are taught to get every competitive edge they can from an early age. I'm talking about the hero worship, the endorsement deals, the community service, the role modeling, the almost rabid way parents press organized sports upon their children in all corners of this country hoping to win the sports lottery and raise the next multi-millionare sports hero.
Are we to blame the athletes for their upbringing? Are we to blame them for shouldering the weight of being OUR escapism from a life of mind-numbing drudgery? Didn't we put them in that bind in the first place? Why do we expect them to somehow act more morally than we expect ourselves? They're people who often come from similar backgrounds as the rest of us, many of them worse. But all of a sudden that Inner Authoritarian (from Charles P. Pierce's piece) rears its ugly head in each of us.
Do we all secretly wish that they were all clean so that our heroes were actually heroes and not just some regular person with a silly cape and special lighting? Or do we actually hope they are all secretly dirty so we can rationalize that professional athletes really aren't all THAT much better than us? Honestly sit in front of a mirror and ask yourself (along with sports fans everywhere, myself included) "do we ask too much from regular people?"
City: Santa Monica, California
Name: Chris Stasi
In cycling, when they introduced the bio passport, they set values for certain parameters and where they were allowed to be and then they measured the cyclist's baseline values. For instance blood hematocrit was not allowed to hit 50% or you'd be considered guilty. So what happened? Cyclists shot their hematocrit to 48-49 before they were measured for the baseline and (amazingly) all of them recorded naturally high hematocrit levels but then when they were tested later on showed no wild swings. They knew the drugs raising their hematocrits weren't going to be found in their systems so they just managed their values to remain constantly high but not trigger the test. Lance said in the Oprah interview that the passport changed everything but it really didn't. Only a couple of guys have even been caught.
We are going to look back at this era of vilifying athletes for taking performance enhancing drugs the same way we think of baseball not allowing African-Americans unbelievably ridiculous.
City: Olympia, Washington
Is your worrying about who cheated a generational thing? I don't know anyone who considers performance enhancing to be a moral failing. I just don't understand what's wrong with athletes using nutty cocktails of drugs to recover from injury better.
Actually, I have a bigger problem with sportswriters making such a big deal of it. Especially in baseball. Bonds and Clemens deserve to be in the Hall PEDs or no. And nobody ever actually caught Piazza, Bagwell, or Biggio using anything, but sportswriters still kept them out because I still don't actually know why. Why not just say things like "Bonds used more chemicals than the entire 1988 East German weightlifting team, but he was the best hitter ever to play the game?"
City: San Antonio
Name: George Block
Thank you for writing that story and for writing it exactly the way you did. Swimming coaches have been begging USADA, WADA and FINA to require a passport for two years prior to any World Championships or Olympic Games. We have been asking for this since 1994. Part of the problem are the labs. They are post-WW II technology. Their lab directors and owners are on all of the "sports science/sports medicine/anti-doping" committees in every organization. In a world where science funding is being slashed daily, being at the drug testing trough is a pretty good deal.
Those of us in the Olympic sports coach both little kids and professionals. I think our views tend to be a bit different that the purely professional coaches. We don't want to have to tell the parents of an 11-year old girl that, "Your daughter is really training well. For her to move to the next level "
George Block, President
World Swimming Coaches Association
City: Long Beach, California
Why should any athlete be banned from taking any medication that will help him recover from an injury, especially when there are no proven long term side effects of the medication? If you blew out your tricep, would you rather take a year to recover, or 10 weeks?
With all due respect, enough with the sanctimony. Are you going to give any of the money you made from your Red Sox book back, even though that entire team juiced? You mean to tell me you didn't suspect any of those guys? Give me a break. In the end it's entertainment. We don't know these guys and don't have to live with their decisions beyond gossiping about them with our friends.
Name: Lyle LeBlang
I was surprised that you neglected to mention why professional sports leagues might be so apathetic to drug testing (or at least one possible theory) — the leagues think it's in their best interests to have the players performing at a super-human level. I know the players' unions fight for the right not to be tested, but I am cynical about how hard the NFL/NBA/MLB is when negotiating the issue. It wouldn't be unlike a sports league to put short-term gain ahead of long-term repercussions, and it is debatable at this point what those repercussions may be.
It is all about the strength of the brand and fan interest, and we enjoy watching people who make us question whether they are actually human. The NBA, like the NFL, demands too much of its players. I wouldn't be to learn that NBA execs are okay with players breaking drug rules so that they can put on a show every night. What happened with the Spurs earlier this year is a great example of that, and I was disappointed that there wasn't more of a backlash against the NBA for its demanding schedule. The problem is that, in order for there to be a meaningful change, it seems like the fans have to do something. I just don't know what that is.
City: Mountain View, California
Name: James Mattis
What are the current limits of human performance? I've raced as an elite amateur cyclist during the entire era of doping in cycling, and have raced against Lance and many other PED users in one pro-am race or another.. I never used PEDs, and I don't really have a good explanation for why I made that choice. I was never offered, and never sought them out. Because of my choice, I never made any money as a pro, but I did win an amateur world championship and an amateur national championship — and hence was required to pee in a cup a couple of times.
Personally, I've surprised myself by how fast I've been able to make a bicycle go. When you train a ton for many, many years, you can do some amazing things, and I don't believe that I was naturally talented. What could someone who actually had physical talents do with a ton of focused training? This is the real shame of this era: our sense of wonder and what a human body is capable of has been diminished. That's sad.
PS — Peeing in a cup for a drug control test is kind of weird, and I'm not sure if you really would find it entertaining for halftime. To insure you aren't pulling a fast one on the testers, you have to hold your hands away from a certain part of the male anatomy, and a chaperone (typically a doctor) stares directly at you while you pee. Aim can be an issue for hitting the cup. Not necessarily good TV.
I just completed reading your latest column about PED use in sports. I think it's easy for those of us who are not professional athletes to cast judgement on those who are. We need to keep this in mind though; this is a job for them. A job with a shelf life. Let's be honest; very few professional athletes will become CEOs of companies after their playing days are over, so they have a few years to make enough money to carry themselves through until they find something else. For you and I and the rest of the workforce, we can continue going to our offices and other places of employment until we're 80 if we want. Most pros are put of their sport by 30 , lets say. Thats a lot of pressure. And keep in mind, each year you have a new draft pick or call-up looking to take your job.
City: Santa Monica, California
Name: Scott Hanselman
I love how you sportswriters always use the collective "we" when discussing PED's, as if your readers were also dense enough to believe that a clean Lance Armstrong could DOMINATE a sport rife with drug cheats. I stopped watching baseball the day I saw career banjo-hitter hit an opposite-field homer into the upper deck at Tiger Stadium. I knew they were juicing, my friends knew they were juicing, But all you enlightened "journalists" couldn't put two and two together even as you stared at the bottle of Andro in plain view in McGwire's locker?
Just because you jock-sniffers don't want to lose access doesn't mean the rest of us are complicit in your ignorance.
City: Fort Worth, Texas
PEDs are merely a byproduct of our capitalistic society. When individuals earn more for producing more of a product, they will usually make decisions that will help their productivity. For example, if I had to choose between an employee who can load 15 boxes an hour on a truck who doesn't use PEDs and an employee who can load 20 boxes an hour who uses PEDs, I want the worker who can load more. Another example: if I'm on the 30th floor of a burning building, what type of firefighter would I want to save me? One who is bigger, faster, and stronger or the opposite? I know these are simple examples, but you understand my point. We live in a society that encourages excess, so why would or should we expect sports to be any different?
The problem I think people have is they view sports as something other than entertainment. Do we raise the PED issue regarding wrestlers or actors on TV? No. And why not? Because we accept them as entertainment. So instead of trying to find out who is or isn't clean (because obviously we as a society have failed to this point), I think we should just enjoy our sports. Whether Adrian Peterson took PEDs isn't a concern to me. What would be an issue for me would be if he didn't play in a game that I paid to attend. If he has to take some deer antler spray to play, that's what I want him to do. He's an entertainer and I want him to entertain.
City: Delmar, New York
Sadly, every once in a while, we need someone to slap us across the face and hold us up to the mirror to show us who and what we have become and it's not pretty. We've become Charlie Brown with the football. Every "Feel Good" story is just Lucy promising not to pull the ball away and every time we believe her and every time we find we're lied to again. You'd think we'd learn.
City: Melbourne, Australia
Name: Gary Miller
One line from your column struck me as the key to this whole conversation. "How did we decide what is right and wrong?" This is the crux of the issue. Who determined that a "pain killing injection" is allowed but "cortisone injections" are not? Who decided that getting laser eye surgery to increase vision is legal yet giving a hormone to speed up the recovery of an injury is not? The line between performance enhancement and performance maintenance must be the blurriest line going around when it comes be professional athletes and the millions of dollars at stake. It's an extremely difficult issue to determine the lines. I hope your column will raise lots of healthy debate within the media circus over there.
Name: El Chipon
Just read your fantastic article on PEDs. Not sure why you don't bring up the 2008 movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster* It covers a lot of this stuff you mention and digs deep into the American psyche regarding what we do and do not consider to be cheating. Also, a great personal/reality aspect of how it pertains to the director's family.
Why aren't we talking about it? Honestly, you know the answer to this question but you don't want to answer it because your livelihood depends on it. It's like the classic scene in A Few Good Men but specifically this line, "You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall."
People don't care, the league doesn't really care. Sports in general is a poisoned enterprise filled with atheletes who are too proud, fans who are too proud and "journalists" who make too much money pretending to be irritated by this facet of the business.
Name: Josh Hamburger
When were the most exciting times in baseball? Is it fair to say that 1998 was, with the homerun battle between Sosa and McGwire? Who cared about cycling before Lance Armstrong? Who cared when Lance was the most dominant? Everybody. The fact of the matter is that excellence and domination is the key to success in these sports. I used to think that McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa were terrible people. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that they were not the problem. The problem is the rules, and whether a player wants to use a PED is their choice. I'd rather not know to be honest, I'd rather let their records stand as are. PEDs will never go away. They have yet to do so. Rewrite the rules. Let athletes decide for themselves. I'm not judging. What do you think?
Name: Pete Hamilton
I'm 58 years old. The MLB/NFL/NHL/NBA that I knew and loved were dead way before PEDs came along just to piss on their collective grave. I used to hate teams and players with the width and breadth of my soul because, for me, it was what gave sports its substance. But, alas, the thrill is gone. There's no more hate because I just don't give a shit anymore. I don't give a shit anymore because the players and owners stopped giving a shit a long time ago. It's all about the money. Bottom line. Blame PEDs all you want, but without all the money, there would be no cheating, at least to the extent that we see it now.
So I've been mulling over why I was so upset about Beyonce lip-syncing the national anthem at the inauguration. Everyone was questioning her validity as a singer but that wasn't what was bothering me. It's strange because I could really care less about Beyonce. Then I realized that I was upset because it was the national anthem at the inauguration. All the principles that our country was founded on are summed up in (what should be) a minute and a half song: independence, struggle, heroism. Instead, Beyonce boasted beauty, perfection, and ultimately, herself. And I thought about how those are the qualities that are now important to America. Auto-tune, lip-syncing, corked bats, PED's; these are all things used to create an illusion of perfection that is rarely attained by a human.
That's why people turn the cold shoulder to the conversation on steroids. We value perfection more than integrity. We want results without the struggle. It's depressing to me. Your column has the transparency and truth our sports need.
City: Salt Lake City
The problem with Ray Lewis is that there's no deterrent for cheating in his last game (if he wanted to do so). The entire world knows he's going to retire after the Super Bowl. They could test his blood on Super Bowl Sunday and if they found enough stuff in it to rouse a burn victim from a deep coma, no one would take a single step to do anything about it. No one is stripping him of a SB ring if he wins? Is ESPN going to deny him a job on Monday Night Football? Shit, no one would even keep him out of the Hall Of Fame. There's no repercussions to cheating the system and that's the the real shame. No one wants to take money out of the pocket of a guy getting that money with the illegal advantage. MLB is the only one doing something about it, whether it's the 50-game ban or the subsequent ban from the Hall Of Fame. But, doesn't hurt these guys where it should which is in their wallets. It sure didn't hurt Melky Cabrera and the $16 mil the Blue Jays gave him.
City: Lubbock, Texas
Your PED column hinted at a subject that sports columnists always overlook: the lack of care for player safety by the Player's Association. The owners are constantly derided as it's obvious their only concern is to make more money, so how does the organization whose primary responsibility is to protect the players' long-term welfare not get called out for only caring about money as well? They reject almost all measures that would improve player safety like better drug testing, requiring better safety equipment, or rule changes and punishments that protect their players from unsafe acts.
I've never been sure why sports columnists' side with players associations on nearly every issue without holding them accountable; it's as much of an issue as the lack of accountability for sports columnists in blindly accepting everything as being natural when PEDs are obviously a factor in many athletic achievements.
City: Washington, D.C.
Angel Heredia, the steroid expert with a sordid past who recently "coached" Juan Manuel Marquez to victory over Manny Pacquiao, did an interview in August 2008 with Spiegel, the famous German magazine. He said of Jerome Young, the disgraced sprinter and former Olympic gold medalist, whom Heredia had provided steroids to (among many others): "He's 31 years old, and he sits in a truck and delivers bread. People say he broke the laws of the sport, but that's not true: it was exactly these rules that Jerome followed." (Source: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/a-571031-4.html) That whole interview — which you can find translated in various places after doing a quick search — is enlightening and disheartening at the same time. Heredia says in the interview, and I believe him particularly because of his expertise and active involvement in that world, that cheating is endemic among world class athletes. Almost all athletes at the absolute pinnacle of their sport — i.e. the top one or two performers in the world — are using PEDs. Lance Armstrong, Justin Gatlin, Barry Bonds, etc., are not the exception. They are the rule.
The truth, as Heredia puts it, is that these have become the laws of sport: if you want to compete on the same level as the premier cyclists/sprinters/pitchers/linebackers/boxers/etc. you must use PEDs. There is no way around that, because the cheaters prosper. Simply to keep up with the top two or three competitors (who are usually cheating), the next ten or fifteen guys (or gals) must (also) cheat. And, because there is often a very small chance of being caught, the unfortunate fact is that cheaters prosper. They get the highest awards their sport can offer. They get the fans. They get the lucrative contracts and endorsement deals.
Look at Justin Gatlin, who tested positive and admitted to doping in 2006, two years after winning an Olympic Gold medal. Gatlin was "coached" by Trevor Graham, who, like Heredia, is a steroid coach (i.e. steroid expert and procurer for athletes). In this most recent Olympics, Gatlin was coached by Dennis Mitchell, who holds the record for the most absurd defense for a failed testosterone test to ever succeed. He claimed that he had gotten drunk and had so much sex with his wife the night before the test that he had elevated levels of testosterone. Even more absurd than this lie is that USATF actually accepted it. (Source: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/osm/story/0,6903,1270863,00.html)
So, after Gatlin returned to competition in 2012 at the Olympics, with its "rigorous" testing, what happened? He ran a 9.79, only two one-hundredths of a second slower than his time in 2006, when he was admittedly on steroids, and almost one full second faster than his Olympic gold medal-winning time in 2004. So, I'm supposed to believe that Gatlin, this time without the use of PEDs, managed to somehow run basically just as fast as he did six years ago when he was cheating? Not a chance. And the media ate it up. They didn't ask him how he could run basically as fast as he did when he was younger and using steroids. They asked him after the trials how it felt to be the oldest man to qualify for the USA Olympic 100m team. What a joke.
The real question isn't "Why?" but "How?" How did this happen? How has it come to this, that every world-class athlete can immediately — and deservingly, in many cases — be put under suspicion of PED use?
The answer is that we, the sports fans (the buyers) have simply made clear what we want from the athletes (the sellers). We want big plays. We want amazing comebacks. We want a 37 year old man with a torn triceps to return to peak-of-his-career form only weeks after what is normally a season ending injury. We want a young man with an incredible work ethic to have one of the greatest seasons in history some nine months after what — for some — would have been a career ending injury. We want to see the 100m sprint record broken. We want to see 73 home runs in a season. We want to see the most amazing athletic feats possible. We want to see history made. And, because we, the consumers, want this, we don't ask too many difficult questions when we get it. We don't look the gift horse in the mouth. We don't say, "Wait a second. That was unbelievable. In fact, a little too unbelievable." And, the media, maybe because they want to keep their jobs, or maybe because they want to sell the stories that the public wants (great achievements, amazing work ethic, triumphing over the odds) don't ask the tough questions.
For years I told anyone that would listen that Lance Armstrong was doping, but no one, except the French, wanted to hear that Lance Armstrong was cheating when he was winning back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles. The story was simply too good. But, once the cycling fervor had cooled, and Lance had revealed himself to be a somewhat detestable person, and there was incontrovertible evidence, suddenly the media jumped on the story. Suddenly Americans started talking about how Lance was actually a cheat and a liar, rather than a supremely talented, God-gifted, outwork-everyone-else phenom.
The athletes are of course also to blame. They ultimately use the banned substances and methods in order to gain a competitive advantage. But, if the consumers told the sellers, "I don't want your product unless I know it's untarnished, and you have to prove that to me with the strictest possible testing regiment," then the athletes would be far less likely to cheat. However, we don't want that. We want greatness. We want history.
City: Atlanta, Georgia
Here's proof (via Sports Illustrated's Vault)
that PED's have been a sport "problem" since the dawn of sport. We didn't bury our heads in the '90s; we just didn't pull them out of the sand.
City: Winchester, Massachusetts
Name: Brett Pahigiannis
How doesn't anyone also bring up Lewis' teammate Suggs? I'm sorry, but I just also ruptured my Achilles back in September. It has been just under 5 months for me. I am 2.5 years younger, and at least 70 lbs lighter. I was a decent athlete who could run 7 minute miles for at least 5 miles, which is good considering I am a sprinter. I could run half marathons and play soccer. Right now I can hardly run over 2 miles at just under a 9 minute pace. You're going to tell me though, a 260+lbs man can run, push off (which is the hardest part for any Achilles injury), and push over 260-300 lbs men with no problem? My PT person told me from the beginning, do not expect a Suggs outcome, because there is no way it could happen with out "help." Somehow every sports announcer look over this fact and marveled at how quickly he got back. Why won't they learn from their mistakes?
Name: Rich Hatch
Remember how we used to scoff at the East Germans when it was so obvious they were roided to the hilt at the Olympics? How are we any better? Depressing.
City: San Francisco
My buddies and I ALWAYS talk about this shit. We laugh when the media clutches it's pearls when they find out some muscled-out half-human, half-mutant gets plugged for PEDs. We sigh when the media pretends that the NCAA isn't filthy and hilariously corrupt, suspending some poor kid for a plane flight when under-the-table payments are common knowledge among the sports' fanbase. We know the media isn't too jazzed about sullying their access, so while we understand, we prefer talking to each other about this stuff than listening to, say, ESPN (which does good work, often, but is pretty compromised when it comes to fair journalistic standards, you'd have to admit).
Point is: I just wanted to say this was a great piece. Whether you care if athletes dope or not, what we all care about is transparency.
Derrick Rose kind of blew the whistle on this a long time ago. We'll never know if he simply misunderstood the question or was being his usual genuine/candid self. I'm sure you remember this story though.
If you've ever read Albert Camus' The Stranger it's an existential novella in which the main character goes through journey in which he understands his total solitude in the world. And that the only link he truly has to society comes 100% from the accountability that he places on himself. in short- only HE knows the truth. And only HE has to live with his actions.
In the end he's alone, but he's come to terms with his actions. And in a sense he can live with that, and die with that.
I believe that while everyone hates Lance Armstrong so much now, at least Lance Armstrong feels he can now live with himself a little more than he used to be able to. He finally made himself accountability and in this particular case, it IS better late than never. It makes all the difference in the world because it give us an opportunity to use that information to change the world from what it is.
I suppose to some degree we could all do with a dose of self-accountability.
But im sure it doesnt help that even when we try to distract ourselves from our own problem-filled lives, our biggest avenue of escape — the wide world of sports — is wrought with corruption, dishonesty, and make-believe. It's a joke. And by eating it up, we keep lying to ourselves. And it tastes like sh*t. And that just sucks. I hope this piece youve written and others like it can change this historically timid discussion into true, decisive action. And we can go back to watching and eating up the truth.
City: Cornville, Arizona
Name: Tom Heffernan
The only reason that people are "cheating" and, at times, pulling all manner of shenanigans to keep from being caught is because we have sanctified sports to near mythological proportions. We want to make believe that it is pure, untainted and unlike the rest of life. But it is isn't. It's just like life. It is life!
Does anyone think that an actor is "cheating" if he/she has cosmetic surgery? On the contrary, I think most of us enjoy seeing really attractive people on the screen.
Does anyone think that a student is cheating when he/she takes a prep. course for the SAT or GRE or LSAT? I doubt it. I think we know in our hearts that these courses don't really help the unqualified. In the same way that all the PEDS in the world will not make me a professional athlete.
Cosmetic surgery, prep courses, PEDS, and other like things help the already talented have an edge over their peers, with whom they compete. How has this become a problem? Really, we're in a dither over this?
I understand the position that some take that allowing athletes to use PEDs would put non-takers in a position of having to follow suit, but I disagree with it. Life is replete with decisions that have to be made regarding which path one should take. Each of us weighs the pros and cons of a certain course and makes a decision. Each decisions is correct even though others might heartily disagree with it. Some actors don't have surgery, some do. I say, allow athletes to make an informed decision whether to use PEDS or not based on their goals, desires and what is important to them.
Name: Ian Capilouto
PED's have totally changed how we view sports. No one I talk to believes we are watching legitimate sports anymore. And we have come to accept it. Whether we choose to or not. The league officials don't care, the athletes don't care, and the agents and advertisers don't either. But real sports fans do notice.
In the last year or so, I have had this same idea come up in many a pub conversation watching sports. All the guys/gals realize we are simply watching sports entertainment now. We aren't watching the greatest athletes who were able to endure the best. We are watching the greatest athletes who were know how to use science the best.
It's entertaining to watch, but I no longer care about the athletes themselves the way I loved watching Barry Sanders run the ball. The records don't really matter anymore, so I am only invested in these guys entertaining me for a few hours. That is the danger of PED's in my mind. People steadily don't care about essence of the sport anymore. We just want the entertainment value. I don't admire athletes anymore. I just want the end result. I don't know if this will have a long term effect on the league's livelihood? I just don't believe I am watching the best of the best anymore. I am watching some strange replication that is slightly off.
Name: Hector P.
So me and some of my buddies are in a basketball league and we were joking about taking some deer antler spray so we can finally win the damn thing. I decided to search for Deer Antler spray on Amazon and was surprised to find it was available for sale. If this spray is available on Amazon, why is Ray Lewis (and any other athlete for that matter) going through any providers who can later out them in public when they can anonymously (or have a friend, relative, etc.) buy this stuff online?? Maybe you can even ship some of this stuff to Rondo and have him back in time for the Playoffs.
City: Antelope, California
Why are we afraid of science? Why is it wrong to better ourselves? Who is making these "life" rules and why should we abide by them? For one thing, human beings should be allowed to put whatever they want into their own bodies. That's a whole nother argument but the point remains. HGH isn't bad for you. It's the wonder-drug of the universe. People are getting younger and healthier all around the world, but here in America (and according to you), that's considered CHEATING. WHY??? HGH is saving lives! Stem cell surgery These blood spinning techniques Tommy John actually revamps careers now Why is all of this so bad?
City: Sydney, Australia
Name: Mathew Halloran
I was amazed listening to your podcast with Chuck Klosterman. Two reasons why.
1. The lack of drug testing in the USA is astonishing. Athletes in Australia are tested regularly for PED's and recreational drugs. The government even paid for the Australian Crime Commision investigate drug use with Australian Athletes as well as match fixing. Cheating on two fronts. This link is from the Australian News Paper.
Our major football codes have been implicated in use of PED's. In the past athletes have been banned for 2 years after tests revealed positive results for PED's. The full extent of this latest investigation has yet to be published.
2. The time I was listening to your podcast Aussie and Warrior Basketballer Andrew Bogut was tweeting about the Australian Crime Commisions findings of use of PED's in sport. The football club he supports in Melbourne was implicated in the findings! Andrew was calling for life bans from any sport if an athlete was found guilty of using PED's. These tweets were at the time of you asking for an athlete to speak out about this issue. With Andrew Bogut's injury history you would think he may of been tempted to 'speed up' his recovery time to get back on the court. His strong opinion on this issue may be due to the fact he didn't take short cuts, went through the pain of recovery to get back on the court. I don't know if he will be open for discussion about PED's, but it might be a good place to start.
Why are you rewriting history about PEDs in baseball? We knew McGwire was using PEDs during the Maris chase. Sports Illustrated published a story about it *before* he passed Maris. During the recent Klosterman podcast, you said people would really cheer someone that said "Test me all you want, I'm clean." Well, a real star, Michael Phelps, did this and nobody seemed to care.
Finally, why does the national media seem to act like the PED era started in baseball in 1993? Olympic athletes were testing positive for steroids in the '70s. Also, Anabolic steroids didn't become controlled substances in the US until 1990. So, in the 1980s, anabolic steroids were legal drugs according to the US Government and Major League Baseball didn't ban anything other than illegal drugs till 2003 and yet the media seems to thinks that 1980s MLB players weren't using anabolic steroids. Why is that?
City: San Francisco
Name: John Aynsley
I agree with most of your comments on PED in drugs and commend you for sticking your neck out there. That said, I think fan homerism plays a bigger role than many are willing to admit. Brewer fans will continue to back Braun and fill the stadium regardless of allegations. Here in San Francisco, we know the Bonds story and Pac Bell/AT&T was never empty. In your discussion with Terry Francona the other week, I got the impression that you were brushing aside possible PED use by Manny and Ortiz during those World Series runs (while calling out the Giants by everything but name in your recent PED article).
Fans only care when it's the "other." The hypocrisy is not limited to ownership and administration. It extends to us too. All of us.
City: Washington, D.C.
I'm listening to you and Chuck Klosterman on the BS Report and while I think you expressed a number of good reasons to be uncomfortable with PEDs, you missed the biggest one of all — the example athletes set for kids. I coach a Little League baseball team for kids ages 10-12 and they all idolize MLB players and aspire to play in the pros. My biggest concern with PEDs is that kids who want to play in the pros and need that competitive edge over their peers start taking PEDs at a young age when they still have plenty of growing to do. But if the pros are doping, how do you prevent it from trickling down? If your dream is to wear the Nationals' curly W and you think the pros are taking supplements, isn't it easy to imagine that you start taking them also? This is the reason baseball and all other professional sports need very rigorous testing — to safeguard the health of the kids who emulate the stars.
I was listening to your podcast with Chuck Klosterman about PEDS and immediately thought of this graph that NPR published. Just curious if you had seen it.
City: Mountain View, California
Name: Geoff B.
The discussion about PEDs made me think of an article from about 10 years ago in Outside Magazine (you've probably been sent it a few times already). The author, Stuart Stevens, took HGH, EPO, testosterone and a steroid for a few months and discussed the effects it had on him. Pretty remarkable stuff.
As a cycling fan ( and you're probably done reading), I know first hand how it feels when you realize that a lot of the great athletic achievements you've witnessed are based on fraud. Even if you don't care about cycling, it's worth reading about what's gone on over the past 15 years to see where other sports may be headed in the future. It's worth visiting the wikipedia pages about:
1. The Festina affair that lead to the creation of WADA
2. Operation Puerto, which is finally coming to trial
3. Lance, if you can take any more of it
4. The next big one in the pipeline, the Padua investigation.
Don't think for a second that similar things aren't happening in the major American sports and professional soccer, there is just too much money at stake (e.g. the latest A-Rod/Miami story).
You touched upon what I think is the most important aspect of this issue (both morally and possibly legally) during the podcast when you brought up the hypothetical Alex Smith/Kapernick situation. By taking these drugs, people are artificially prolonging their careers and/or obtaining their jobs at the expense of others who aren't using these substances. In my mind, and many others, this is a crime. By using something other than your own work ethic and inherent talent you are stealing from someone else. There is a true societal and monetary cost to this.
It's a shame that the major US sports and Soccer can't get their act together to conduct proper testing. The money clearly isn't an issue. They should all have the equivalent of the biological passport that's now in place for cycling. Without it there's no way to know for sure if what we're seeing is real. The indifference of the leagues and the strength of the players unions are likely the biggest reasons this won't happen anytime soon.
I'm a physician. Trained in laboratory medicine & Fellowship trained in Transfusion Medicine & Blood Bank. The short answer for your 'why are stem cells treatment on Kobe's knee allowed but " question in your recent column is this: Those treatments, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP), stem cell therapy on joints, etc. are APPROVED treatments for conditions X, Y, & Z. While some of those may be second or third-line treatments for a condition, they have shown some merit in a clinical trial and been approved for treatments.
Kobe has degenerative joint disease in his knee? Well, this therapy works for some people. Same for Dirk.
Where things get 'tricky' is this: you pondered in a much earlier posting why Kobe had to go to Germany to do this? or South Korea? The answer then moves to regulations:
• Some of these therapies are FDA approved (in the states). PRP is for a variety of things (i.e. tennis-elbow). Any athlete that can find a doctor willing to diagnose a condition qualifying for the therapy can get the therapy.
• Other therapies, like the stem cell ones, are not FDA approved. Can't do it legally in the U.S. BUT they have been approved in other nations (which is a different discussion that could also be had — why, when, where, why not the U.S.).
BUT, so long as the therapy doesn't result in a breach of the a given league's drug-testing rules (really, that's the only basis for infringement — to my knowledge, there are no Collective Bargaining Rules for surgeries or procedures that an athlete can or cannot have) — then the treatment is fair-game.
I said I'd be brief and thus try to wrap this up:
• You mentioned the biological passport for all sports — great idea.
• You alluded to the testing limits being elevated — spot on (usually 3 standard deviations from the normal I believe — 99.7% of the population — though it might be higher than that).
• You touched on Blood Testing for these things — again, right on. That's the first big kicker (and shockingly it was baseball who first instituted it). We can detect a VAST number of things via Blood Testing that urine/hair/mucosa testing won't show (though not infallible or doping-proof — see cycling).
Finally, the next 'Big' thing could come from this: what if player X tested positive for HGH, testosterone, whatever — BUT that player had a medical diagnosis approving them for the therapy then what? I can't believe that this hasn't happened already! We've seen it for Adderoll but not for a more typical 'enhancer'. Then what? Why was someone like Pavel Podkolzin (Mavs, 2005 or so) allowed to play? Hehad genetic/ medical conditions that resulted in having hormone levels that would have put another player out of the sport?
Name: Fred Dreier
I applaud you tackling the PED question in the recent column and BS Report with Klosterman. As a cycling fan, I'm used to being the outcast around my mainstream American sports fan buddies. But now that PED's are en vogue I'm the coolest kid at the lunch table. You see, when it comes to PEDs, we're light years ahead of you NFL and NBA guys. The whole "it's a level playing field" and "HGH is for injury recovery" are topics we figured out in 2007. Anyway, I'm not writing today just to be a blow-hard or to rah rah about the fact that cycling finally took down its big bad wolf, Lance Armstrong.
Here's a column written by Jonathan Vaughters, who doped alongside Lance, then had a change of heart and has been working to clean up the sport. His answer? Regular testing conducted by independent organizations, but funded by the sport. Once players are willing to give 2% of their salaries to fund independent testing, or Gooddell and Stern work with WADA, then the sports can really tackle the issue.
Name: Dan Turner
The main reason why people hate doping is the same reason that there was such an uproar regarding Beyonce's lip-syncing of the national anthem at the presidential inauguration: watching somebody do something so clearly amazing and so far above what you could possibly imagine yourself or anybody you know doing (whether that be sporting, artistic, intellectual, anything at all really) is such an amazingly exhilarating thing (as you mentioned in the Klosterman podcast, watching Usain Bolt run in the Olympics was one of the most exciting moments of your recent life, for that exact reason), and we simply want to know that it is REAL. Imagining those people putting in the countless hours of hard work to get to this amazing level of ability is inspiring and exciting, and seeing them compete in a confrontational manner, using the years of training against one another, like in sports, is honestly one of the more exciting things we can see.
We need to know it is REAL and that these are REAL people, not machines. Otherwise, why would we care? It is the heart of the athlete that we want to see, not the body, if that makes sense. And PEDs rob us of that.
City: Des Moines
I was just listening to your Klosterman podcast and noticed you struggled a bit to define what bothers you most about juice. How 'bout this reason: you talk about your kids playing sports all the time, but at this moment in time (and especially in 10 years, at this rate), it will be impossible for your kids to compete in sports at a high level (major college or professional) without using something.
The times have changed. A person will not be able to reasonably believe that talent and hard work will be enough to get to the NFL. It will take all that work plus a bunch of chemicals with unknown long-term side effects.
Think about how it will feel to have to tell your son that the only way he will be able to play for the Patriots is if he takes this injection and those pills?
This is what bothers me most about PEDs.
The way to get rid of PEDs is to institute a punishment for the team if a player gets caught. Similiar to how college programs get penalized if one of their players takes money. The reason why is that when as fans we here about a player getting suspended, our first thought is not, "oh crap, what does that say about the sport." It's more like, "can (inserts PED abusing athletes name here)'s team still win." It's more fun to read a column about the Sf giants teams chances of winning the World Series than about Melky taking steroids. If the team gets penalized along with they player- maybe some kind of disqualification or salary cap restriction- then fans would crucify players who got caught, teammates would tolerate it and executives wouldn't take risk on athletes who are known steroid abusers. Instead of increasing your chances at making millions of dollars, taking steroids might endanger that dream.
Name: Edward Sadowski
I was listening to you talk to Chuck Klosterman about the NFL and all of its problems and had a strange idea come to mind. Maybe its a horrible idea, and it doesn't really make any sense, but I'll tell you any way. What if we put weight limits to positions in football? In boxing you have weight classes and that protects smaller guys from having to face larger guys who can really hurt them. Why not do the same in football? Put a weight limit on each position. For example, you can't have a linebacker be over 230lbs. Nobody who is 265lbs will be flying over the middle to destroy a 190lb wide receiver. The game would become a little bit less about strength and more about speed. Would this reduce injuries and concussions? I don't know. It was just a bad idea I had.
City: Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Name: Alberto Jimenez
I am in the midst of listening to your Klosterman podcast and agree that it was one of the better ones in a while. When you and Chuck talked about the differences of some antibiotics to help clear an infection and PEDs like HGH aiding in the healing process for a major injury, it got me thinking about something. What if professional sports allowed the use of a PED only to help treat players that have a documented serious injury?
Like say Player X has a serious injury and is out for an extended period of time. That athlete is now on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list or whatever. To help get that athlete healthy and performing at a high level again which helps his team and the league, said league can have a protocol in place where player X receives a performance PED under the care of team physicians to help the healing process with doses and number of treatments carefully documented. However, once the injury is healed player X cannot return to play until the PED is 100% out of his system. That way the player, the team and the league benefit because the player is healthier faster, but is not receiving a competitive advantage by playing with PEDs in his system. Do you think that kind of thing would work? Could it fly?
Name: Erik Wolfe
The only way I see this getting fixed: we create independent sanctioning bodies to police our sports, similar to UCI and FIFA, which may create as many problems as it solves. But, 30 years ago you could smoke in every office building in America and if you asked anyone if it'd ever change I bet most would have said, "no way."
City: San Jose, California
Name: Kyle Bridge
Loved your article, and as a boxing aficionado like yourself forgot to mention one big thing. Nonito Donaire has instituted himself to testing 24/7 all year long. How many people would this stop from cheating if they could get tested at any point in time all year long? I understand this will NEVER happen because the cheaters will never agree to this but really one sport (hopeufully boxing first since lives are at stake) should agree to this, or how about a few players themselves agree to it like Donaire? Let's say if Lebron or someone of that caliber agrees, would others follow suit? Would this not be one of the greatest things he can do to recoup some of The Decision loss? Pipe dream, I know.
City: Santa Monica, California
Name: Jon Rand
I'd like to try and enhance your idea to have a high-profile player like LeBron take a stand against illegal substances. As you and Chuck Klosterman discussed, it's unlikely any one star would have the balls to take a stand. But what if *ten* stars took a *collective* stand?
Here's the way I'd see it going down: LeBron agrees to join an anti-drug task force of NBA stars that would only be activated and publicly disclosed once at least ten of the top fifty stars also sign the exact same deal. All fifty stars are presented with the same agreement.
Would LeBron take on this battle on his own? Probably not. Would he do it if he was first guaranteed to be joined by ten or more fellow superstars like Durant, Rose, and Garnett? The chance of success skyrockets once the battle becomes class-action, where no individual star has to stick out his neck all by himself.
Most importantly, we'd name this group The Clean Team.
City: Mesa, Arizona
Name: Paul Bonn
You wrote: "We look the other way when the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL players associations keep blocking blood testing in their respective sports"
Take the decision away from them. Some kind of simple state law — "Any athlete performing in a publicly funded stadium/arena/ballpark (whatever) will be randomly blood tested/urine tested/bio-passport (whatever), with the athlete/athletic association footing the bill". Don't like it? Build your own ballparks, and do whatever you want in them. That doesn't help your issue with professional boxing I guess, but that should take care of the professional leagues and college athletics.
Name: Daniel Premo
What if each league and its players union made a trade: No more marijuana testing in exchange for blood testing? Would any of the unions accept it? Would the NBPA?
Name: Ethan Wright
Nothing is stopping any athlete from voluntarily submitting blood for testing. Some semi-trustworthy independent governing body should serve as a central testing facility that athletes can voluntarily send in bi-weekly or monthly blood samples to if they truly want to be labeled drug-free. Instead of being someone who hadn't test positive they could be someone who HAD tested negative. If you're Peterson or Lewis or anyone else who has nothing to hide, prove it.
City: Washington, D.C.
You wondered, should the President intervene in sports? Should he force the NBA, or any other league, to enact stricter drug testing policies? Sports is an industry that is, although incredibly entertaining and fun, in the grand scheme of things, relatively unimportant. The Dallas Cowboys, the NFL's most valuable franchise, are worth 1/100th of HSBC, whose executives the President cannot be bothered to prosecute for laundering money for drug cartels and terrorist organizations.
Should the most powerful man in the world, whose time is arguably more important than any other person's on the planet, actively intervene in sports? Absolutely not. The athletes, franchises, and leagues that are complicit or active in PED use and other illicit methods are not actively defrauding or harming the consumer. When you find out that Adrian Peterson did in fact cheat, you are let down and maybe a little depressed, but you're not actually seriously harmed. He didn't cheat you on your mortgage. He just showed you that Santa Claus isn't real.
Name: Jonah Hartman
I enjoyed your article about PED cheats especially the part about how arbitrary the line between drugs that are allowed and banned really is. The only true way to level the playing field is to allow all PEDs and let players decide what they want to take. Sounds radical, but isn't that what America is about? Performance Enhancing? Whether it is Cialis, your morning coffee, that stuff you put under your arm if you have "Low T", we all try to enhance our performance so we can be the best that we can be. Shouldn't we expect the same from our athletes who are competing for our entertainment? Bottom line what's wrong with enhanced performance?
City: New York
Name: Brian S.
Let's have a live TV show called THE PROOF." Every two weeks for the next few years, athletes allow a medical professional (from a reputable lab) to take a small sample of blood for testing. They can test for anything they want — and keep the rest (leftovers) for "future re-testing." The results would be published on air for the world to see. You know what would happen? The ballsy athletes that took part would become the most beloved professionals in the world to the general public. Other "pros" may hate them because they'd be called out to do the same thing but too bad. Anyone who didn't man-up would be on the "shit detector" radar. Oh, and the clean ones who join the program and participate would have Hall of Fame credentials beyond reproach. They would be the true giants of men. And we would have our heroes back. Just saying.
City: Springfield, Illinois
Name: Darrin Burnett
After listening to you and Klosterman, I really tried to formulate a policy that might address some concerns.To me, the difference in what you were saying is that guys like Peterson, Manning and Lewis (if they used) using to get back on the field as fast as possible somehow seems better, or at least more palatable, then someone like Bonds using to gain more fame.
So, I propose health waivers. Here are the rules:
1. A player may apply for a waiver to use HGH, steroids, deer antler, Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Axe Body Spray or whatever is determined to be the most appropriate treatment for an injury.
2. It must be an injury that is the difference between playing and not playing, not the difference between playing at 70 percent and 100 percent.
3. It must have been an injury suffered in a game or an illness contracted through no fault of the player (cancer treatments; heart conditions, etc) No injuries from pickup basketball or motorcycle crashes allowed.
4. Three doctors — one team, one personal and one league-hired — must unanimously agree to a treatment plan. They must specify what can be taken and for how long. For each injection or pill or cream or whatever, one of those three doctors must be present. The team incurs all costs for the medicine and treatment costs.
5. The player can back out at any time if he feels the side effects are a problem and the team may not penalize him in terms of salary or playing time. He is still subject to drug testing as listed below.
6. The player is drug tested before and after every game during and after the waiver period until the end of that season (including playoffs.)
If a non-approved PED is found, or the approved PED is continued after the waiver period, the player is suspended one full season of games (Week 8 to Week 8) and is never allowed to apply for a waiver again.
7. A team has two players that fail the tests in the same season, that team may no longer apply for waivers for the rest of that season (or for half the next season, if the failure is in the playoffs) Existing waivers will be honored. (This is to keep teams from sabotaging treatment to get rid of bad contracts)
8. All waivers will be made public, so fans, the media and Las Vegas knows what is going on.
City: New York
Professional Sports: the only profession in the world where cheating isn't a crime.
I work in the world of finance. My job is regulated by the SEC and multiple other governement organizations. I get paid for performance. If I pick investments that make my investors money, I get a very attractive bonus. Everyone in my field has the same incentive. There is also a very easy way to make more money than the rest of the people in my field — its called inside information. If my competitor cheats, not only does he make money, but he makes it off me or someone else in my field. He buys a stock knowing something no one else does, illegally, but he buys it off me. I sell it to him. He directly makes money that I lose.
The SEC, the FBI and various other financial regulators have thousands of employees working to catch these cheaters. When their performance enhancing cheats are exposed, yes, the media vilifies them; yes, they are "suspended" from their job; but, most important, laws exist to make their actions a crime, landing them in jail. Beyond the purity argument or loss of innocence, PEDs and inside information are theft. They are a crime. They are stealing someone else's income, as well as their ability to successfully be employed through illegal methods.
You cannot say it is a game. This is not catch football in your backyard, or six friends playing 3 on 3 hoops on the blacktop. These are mostly multi-millionaire athletes in multi-billion dollar industries, and their professions are regulated by national laws and federal organizations. A traveling baseball team is a licensed enterprise participating in interestate commerce. Our Olympic athletes are directly sponsored by our government. The NFL is a sanctioned national monopoly. Boxing and MMA are specifically regulated by state commissions with testing required by law and punsihments legislated by lawmakers.
I go to work everyday hoping that my taxes support a government that will regulate commerce, regulate financial trading, create a fair playing field, and punish any criminals who try to cheat and steal my livelihood.
If you want to clean up PED — call it what it is — a crime, specifically theft. Press charges against those who are caught and send them to prison, where every thief belongs.
The Last Word
City: San Francisco
I am a neuroscientist and avid sports fan who wants to know why no sport has dared to ask the question, "What is the reason we are banning substances for?" Ostensibly there are two obvious answers:
1. To protect the individuals from harmful agents.
2. To stop athletes from getting 'unnatural' advantages.
They haven't answered this key question because any answer will create a whole series of slippery slope arguments about what should be legal or illegal. What gives the leagues right to dictate that their athletes be healthy? It doesn't work that way in general jobs, regardless of whether what you're doing might affect their health. In some cases jobs can do this, but only with respect to the fact that it may hinder their job performance (such as athlete's contracts saying they can't go skydiving). However, PEDs actually make job performances better, so sports leagues cannot use this logic. The only logic they can use to ban PED use to protect the athlete, but that's a righteous argument — they are doing it for the good of the athlete's future. These athletes are largely adults. Telling an adult what they can and cannot do for their own safety doesn't fly.
Also, what is considered 'harmful' for an athlete? Plenty of legal things can negatively affect one's health: alcohol, cholesterol, and over the counter medications can often have large side effects but many are not banned, so if the goal of banning a substance is to protect the athlete, then why choose specific harmful agents but not others? If a drug causes diarrhea or vomiting, is it harmful? Or does it need to cause a chronic or lethal problem to be considered harmful? Many things are fine in certain doses, but harmful in large doses. Also, there is little data on many substances that people would like to use, and almost no long term studies about them. Doing a long term study to determine the role of chronic EPO usage over a 30 year period would take 30 years to perform. That's even more of an issue with newly designed drugs that have yet to been widely distributed. For these reasons, leagues have declined to say they are banning substances to protect their athletes.
So if the answer is that sports leagues are banning substances to stop athletes from getting 'unnatural' advantages, then that raises three more questions.
Question 1: What constitutes 'unnatural'?
I have put 'unnatural' in inverted commas as the word is it's almost impossible to define in the context of PEDs. Many define 'unnatural' as utilizing something modern science has produced, such that previous athletes would not be able to use it. However, there are many things that are derivations of modern science no one would consider cheating, including eating a healthy diet and getting frequent physicals.
Another definition of 'unnatural' would be using something synthetic versus a compound that occurs in nature. However, many PEDs such as HGH, EPO and testosterone are molecules that naturally occur in our bodies. It would be absurd to allow injections of testosterone, but not stanazolol, just because one is naturally occurring — both molecules activate androgen receptors and thus have the same impact on performance and health. Banning ingestion of all synthetic molecules would be impossible as synthetic molecules are ubiquitous in our diet.
A third definition of 'unnatural' would be defining the route of ingestion, as many would consider eating something natural and injecting something unnatural. For example, HGH and EPO are both naturally occurring proteins in humans and in animal species that we eat, but when we ingest proteins, they are broken down into their component amino acids before they are absorbed. Thus, their activity can only be harnessed if they are delivered by another means such as injection. If sports leagues define 'unnatural' by the route of ingestion this would limit the many legal medications that need to be injected (such as insulin for diabetics). And it would just push the PED industry towards generating orally active compounds to mimic these proteins. The overall inability to define 'unnatural' makes it extremely difficult to define what should and shouldn't be legal.
Question 2: Should it be legal for performance enhancers to aid in recovery from injury?
Consider — recovery from injury can actually be HARDER for an athlete because of the variety of things they cannot use. If Bill Simmons had a tricep tear, he could absolutely use Deer Antler Spray to help heal. If Ray Lewis has a tricep tear, he cannot. By allowing specific drugs or procedures for recovery, but not performance enhancers, you're creating another slippery slope argument. Kobe Bryant getting cellular injections to heal an injured knee is considered okay; Lance Armstrong getting transfusions to enhance his performance is considered cheating. Well, what if Kobe got monthly injections? Or weekly injections? Where do we draw the line?
Clearly the goal isn't to impede recovery, but the amount of oversight to determine if something is being utilized for recovery — not performance enhancement — would be almost impossible to adjudicate. It would also create a cottage industry of faking injuries and getting doctors' notes to enable behavior.
Argument 3: Could we limit 'unnatural' advantages by saying nothing is an advantage if everyone is allowed to use it?
Some might say there's an advantage for people who can afford the best doctors and most expensive substances — like Lance Armstrong, who could afford doctors who monitored his blood doping, giving him an unfair advantage over those who couldn't afford that level of care. This argument doesn't hold water for me. Lance Armstrong can also afford training equipment and many different legal things that others can't afford (and those items are perfectly legal).
By not defining their ultimate goal for banning substances, the leagues can avoid these three arguments, but in turn, will always stay behind scientific advancements as athletes keep find new methods to gain advantages, whether it's by utilizing new drugs or trying procedures that haven't yet been banned. So the only solid logic for avoiding a slippery slope argument is this: Instead of drawing a random line defining what is legal or illegal, the leagues should just make everything legal.
Then again, who wants to see Phil Hartman's arms fall off while weightlifting?