Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 33
The Bleacher Bum Chronicles Vol. XXI
BY THE BLEACHER BUM
Did I scare you?
Not only is the World Series underway, but the NFL is also kicking into high gear as divisional races start to take shape (how ’bout them Niners?). NBA players are hitting the hardwood and getting in shape for their season openers as the preseason rolls along, and college and high school football campaigns are winding down to their annual postseason hysteria.
If you’ve been a little too distracted and gotten a late start on your Halloween costume, here’s an idea: You could go as a giant hockey puck wearing chains to honor the ongoing NHL lockout. The league’s owners recently canceled the start of the regular season into November, and as of press time there seems to be no end in sight to the impasse. It might not win you any points among hardcore hockey faithful (although they are a rare breed), but at least it’s topical.
Or how about going trick-or-treating this year as Felix Baumgartner? He’s the Austrian skydiver who captured the world’s attention by setting a freefall record, jumping out of a customized weather balloon 24 miles over the Earth’s surface. All you need is a spacesuit with a big puffy backpack and a case of Red Bulls and you’ll be the greatest daredevil since Evel Knievel.
Or you could hop on your bike, grab a yellow jersey, a muscle shirt, and, of course, a prominent Livestrong bracelet, and roam around the neighborhood as disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. After years of vehement denials from Armstrong, his ex-teammates finally threw him under the bus in revealing to investigators that Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team constituted “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union, upheld Armstrong’s lifetime ban on Oct. 22, meaning his record seven Tour de France wins will be given to, oh I don’t know, a bottle of wine and a block of cheese.
On the subject of steroids, the other day I caught a podcast with Victor Conte, the disgraced, pencil-thin mustachioed founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, more notoriously known as BALCO. The way he describes it, Conte got into the business for the right reasons, wanting to use science to help athletes get the best out of their bodies. Along the way, he and his company started breaking bad, supplying banned anabolic steroids such as tetrahydrogestrinone (a.k.a. “The Clear”) to their clients. The drugs were virtually undetectable by the testing standards of the time. Fresh out of federal prison, Conte is talking, and isn’t holding back when it comes to naming names.
Since his release, Conte has become somewhat of an anti-doping advocate. He claims steroid use is still rampant in professional sports, and he should know, having worked with many of the world’s top athletes. As many as half of all Major League Baseball players and Mixed Martial Arts fighters, he says, take some form of performance-enhancer to maximize their abilities. Current testing methods are entirely inadequate, Conte explains, and it’s not all due to incompetence; it’s set up that way. The major sporting organizations, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, often look the other way, purposely ignoring positive doping tests and making it easy for athletes to beat the system if they taper off in a reasonable amount of time. The reason the rules are so lax, he says, is that the public demands its athletes to break records and perform well, even when hurt. In the words of a certain cartoon possum named Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Now that’s a scary thought.
I also recently heard an interview with Dock Ellis, the flamboyant former Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher who famously threw a no-hitter while loaded on LSD in 1970. Ellis is open about not only his own past drug use, but that of his fellow baseball players throughout the ’70s. Almost all players back then, he says, were fueled by “greenies,” amphetamines that were oftentimes prescribed by team doctors. Many players simply couldn’t perform without their “medicine.” Some teams, the story goes, would even add the drugs to their water jugs. Testing back in those days was almost nonexistent; it was just accepted as the way things were.
It begs several questions. If performance-enhancing drugs have always been around and have been used by many of the sporting world’s greats, why are we so concerned with them now? How many records from the past were set under the influence of some kind of supplement or steroid? Where do we draw the line? Maybe we as a society need to accept that every record might be tainted in some shape or form. Has it gotten to the point where we just have separate leagues for those who wish to perform clean and those who want an added boost?
Fall is the season of changes, and the time has come to give up my bleacher seat. This is my last column (have I really done 31 of these?) as I’m moving on to spill my caffeinated jargon elsewhere. Anyhow, I hope I’ve entertained you in some way over the years or at least made you smile or even just think. It’s been a great ride. Maybe someday we’ll meet up in the beer line.
But what do I know? I’m just a bum. And that’s my (final) view from the bleachers.
The Bleacher Bum was just keeping the seat warm. Contact him at email@example.com.