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The Drugs in Sport Scandal Is No Longer About Steroids

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Ever since the BALCO Labs story broke almost 5 years ago the drugs in sport scandal stopped being about simple, garden-variety steroids that have been available for over 35 years. Once we found out about “the cream,” “the clear” and human growth hormone the issue of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sport changed dramatically.

But by the way this story is being covered by the established sports media you would never know that the rules of the game have changed.

The old attempts at enforcing drug policy through the drug testing of athletes were made obsolete by the actions of Victor Conte and his BALCO conspirators, and by the actions of chemists – amateur and professional alike – in small private labs throughout the country. What these people did – and are still doing today – was modify known anabolic agents so that the people taking these drugs would not be caught by a drug test.

Conte and company forever changed the status quo with regard to enforcing PED policy.

There are hundreds of steroids that were never made available for clinical or commercial use that can be altered to not be detected by the current version of most organization’s testing protocols. Since drug tests look for specific compounds, and are not a “one test catches all” proposition, designer steroids effectively make these drug tests irrelevant.

Along with these undetectable designer compounds, add to the mix the uber-potent and equally undetectable human growth hormone and the drug police are more like the Keystone Cops than feared enforcement agents. Human growth hormone is an athlete’s dream PED.

But none of this has stopped members of the sports media from speaking in the PED vernacular of a generation ago. We still hear the tired old bromides from an otherwise brilliant guy like Peter Gammons who says things like “Sammy Sosa never failed a drug test,” and “Gary Matthews, Jr. says he didn’t take steroids.”

After all we have learned through the last 5 years, how can the dean of American baseball sportscasters say these things? How can a guy like Gammons not realize that there was no way to catch a Sosa, Bonds, McGwire or any other guy taking a designer steroid or human growth hormone? How can he not know that steroids and human growth hormone are not the same substances?

Speaking of Gary Matthews, Jr., his lawyer made a statement today. According to the AP report Matthew’s lawyer, Robert Shapiro says he’s convinced that his client didn’t break any laws or major league rules. Okay, let’s see a show of hands of people who expected Matthews’ lawyer to come out and say his client took human growth hormone to improve his performance to the point where he could sign a $50 million contract. Give me a break.

Shapiro’s comments get even more ludicrous. Here’s what he said in the AP story.

“Gary wishes to cooperate with Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Angels and any other investigative agency that may look into this matter. He is eager to tell his side of the story and looks forward to providing a statement once all investigations into the matter have been completed,” (My emphasis).

Since this investigation will probably be active until Matthews’ new 5-year contract expires, Shapiro is actually telling the world – in classic lawyer-speak – that Matthews won’t ever tell anyone anything meaningful. And why not? There’s not a drug test that Major League Baseball can give Matthews – even if they could force him to take it – that would result in a positive test. Matthews has 50 million reasons to keep his mouth shut.

All of this talk about everybody being innocent until there’s a failed drug test is a waste of time because there aren't any tests that can catch people who are taking human growth hormone and/or designer steroids. Can someone please get this message to Peter Gammons?

And since drug tests can’t “catch” athletes, there’s no way that guys will give themselves up even if there is a paper trail as wide and as long as a runway at O’Hare Airport.

Unfortunately, among the journalists who cover this story there are “deniers” and other folks who just don’t want to deal with the concept that athletes will go to extraordinary means to cheat by using drugs. Until this issue is better understood by the people reporting on it, the masses will never be able to fully understand the impact that these drugs have on athletes and on the sports they play, and the issue will continue to fester.

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About Sal Marinello

  • http://Missouri Matt Chaney

    Nothing to add here but kudos, Sal. Once again, you nailed it. Sport media love to play dumb about designer steroids in particular, as they did HGH for two decades… Keep hammerin’.

  • sal m

    thanks for reading…and thanks for the great compliments.

  • Dr. Charles Yesalis

    Sal,

    Great column and right on target. The only thing I would add is how sport “journalists” have looked the other way regarding doping in college sport – especially D-1 football.

    Dr. Chuck Yesalis
    Penn State Univ.

  • sal m

    dr. yesalis:
    thanks…and you are absolutely right with regards to college football.

    until there is another chapter in this scandal that involves college “kids,” we probably won’t get any journalists looking at this issue.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    This is a recommended article on the BC Sports General forum…