Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dirty little secrets

I have become...shall we say...quite cynical in regards to professional athletes.

It started long before now, but it's been coming to a head.

I've spent a lot of keystrokes on this recently.

Cheating, drugs, the sports version of Enzyte...unnatural athlete enhancement. Call for details. Side effects could include acne, shrinkage, and impotence. Long term effects could include cancer.

I have gotten to the point where the benefit of the doubt is no longer afforded.

Hank Steinbrenner can cry all he wants about what he perceives as a drug problem in football, and baseball being picked on. He will get sympathy from precious few out there. He deserves none.

Yes, there's still a performance enhancer problem in football. The difference is that the NFL has at least made an effort for over a decade and a half, or the appearance of an effort. Baseball had to be pushed into it. And the Player's Union is still being dragged into compliance.

Don't believe the last statement, consider that Donald Fehr told his constituents not to talk to George Mitchell. To stonewall the investigation.

What's the dirty little secret of professional sports?

The dirty little secret is that we're watching the games, races, matches and what have you, being contested on an even playing field...in a really twisted way.

While I'm sure that there are many professional athletes that are clean, I have to believe, in light of the numbers in the Mitchell Report, that there's a majority of players out there on the juice. I won't even get into team-related things like Spygate, salary cap violations, allegations of teams in baseball setting up cameras over the centerfield wall in order to steal signs, and so on.

As for those numbers in the Mitchell Report...as I recently noted to someone, there were over 80 players implicated in the former senator's report. Better than three teams' worth of players. That's based largely on the testimony of two dealers/informants out of New York City. Mitchell himself said that his work was not definitive.

It makes me wonder, if the investigators were able to link 80 names based on two guys out of New York, just how many they would have been able to name had they been able to identify the suppliers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Philadelphia, and any number of other places. Fifty percent of major leaguers? Seventy?

Everyone talks about Hank Aaron's home run record, but how many records are tainted by PED use? We all now know that Eric Gagne was juicing when he set the record for consecutive saves, and anyone that wants to tell me that those drugs have no effect, look at what Gagne was like this past season. Don't tell me it was the injuries he suffered a couple of years ago. He was healthy this year. Based on what he was like last season, Gagne would never have approached the level he was at when he was the most dominant closer in baseball.

I'm not trying to pick on baseball here.

As I mentioned before, Steinbrenner is (I can feel the bile in the back of my throat) right. Football still has a problem. According to transcripts in the BALCO case, the vast majority of players on the Broncos and the 49ers were implicated in the use of HGH.

That doesn't take into account our hometown Rodney Harrison, the members of the Panthers Super Bowl entrant, Bill Romanowksi, Shawn Merriman, and any number of other players who have been nailed since.

I'm not even touching on bicycling, which saw its thinnest competition in the Tour de France last year due to doping disqualifications. Or running, a sport that has seen some of its biggest stars nailed over the course of the last two decades - Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, marathoner Uta Pippig.

Then, of course, we even saw boxing (big surprise) implicated in the Albany investigation.

It's hard to look at what is happening at the highest levels of athletic competition and not view these people with some level of skepticism.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


"It's hard to believe you, sir," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told Clemens. "I hate to say that. You're one of my heroes. But it's hard to believe."

People all over the place engage in hero worship of professional sports stars.

This is beyond me.

I enjoy sports. I have a great deal of respect for the accomplishments of these people. Hell, I even respect, to an extent, the innate abilities of those like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Marion Jones. What they did requires a certain amount of physical talent that existed before the cheating, or alleged cheating (steroids/HGH and working out alone are not enough to make a world-class athlete - you have to be close already). However that does not absolve them, and you cannot argue that Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame due to the fact that he had hall worthy numbers before the cheating took place (not alleged, he admitted to taking the drugs). A voter is supposed to look at the body of work, and the body of his work includes a significant time period during which he cheated the game.

People seem surprised with every new cheating scandal and want to strip teams of titles, ban them from the respective sports - and will even engage in vehement defenses of teams or players they are fans of. To listen to the Clemens and Bonds apologists, these players practically walk on water.

There are levels of vitriol and misunderstanding involved in these things that go far beyond the pale.

People sound off about the Patriots like the team is the only one in the NFL that has engaged in sideline espionage, in spite of the fact that the likes of Jimmy Johnson and Steelers owner Dan Rooney have acknowledged that, not only was what the team did commonplace, but it has no significant impact on the games. Those statements came from football lifers, people who know the game better than any fan possibly could.

Before anyone jumps on my back about this, I am not defending the Patriots. They cheated, they got caught, and they were punished under the rules of the NFL. (Although, I do have issue with the fact that the Jets admitted filming from a place wherein the rules do not provide for in Gillette, and the NFL absolved them of any wrong-doing - I have an issue with the double-standard). If you're going to call for the heads of one, call for them all.

You want the Patriots to give up their championships for filming, fine. Then call for the same for the Broncos who violated the salary cap in order to put together back-to-back championships, or the Yankees for buying up every steroid-laden pin-cushion in MLB in order to put together an impressive run in the late 1990's. As for me - keep the rings, keep the records.


Cheating is common-place in professional sports - from Rosie Ruiz in the Boston Marathon (I know, technically amateur there), to everything from the performance enhancers used by the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Rodney Harrison, Marion Jones, Uta Pippig and any number of other professional athletes to salary cap violations, video taping, signal stealing, scuffing baseballs - that it amazes me when people are surprised or disappointed. Name a sport, name a team - there's an infraction to be found.

If you want to look up to athletes, to put someone on a pedestal and use him or her as an example for your kids - look to something, someone a little more obscure.

Look to the Ironman Triathlon Championships. Not to the top finishers.

Look to sister Madonna Buder, an amateur athlete who finished the event for thirteen consecutive years (missing last year's cut off by mere minutes at the end of the cycling stage), breaking her own record each of those years as being the oldest woman to complete the event. Or take John Blais, a man with ALS who completed the Ironman in 2005 in order to raise awareness for the disease. He was in a wheelchair by the 2006 event and didn't live to see the 2007 Ironman. Then there was a competitor in this year's event by the name of Scott Rigsby, a double-amputee who lost both of his legs below the knees. How about Charles Plaskon, a blind 64-year old finisher? Or the story of Dick Hoyt, which you really have to see to believe? Really. I can't do him justice.

There are plenty of athletes out there deserving of that pedestal, for any number of reasons. Just try not to forget that the pros are human too, and generally willing to do whatever it takes to stay at the top of their game. The people I mention above are human as well, with human failings like the rest of us. However, unlike the Clemenses of the world, they're not doing what they do for money...or even personal glory. They see the mountain in front of them and see something to accomplish.

For disease awareness.

To show that you're never too old.

For a son.

To show that there is no such thing as handicapped.

To show the depths and strength of the human spirit - sans cheating, short-cuts, or performance enhancing drugs.

And that is worth our respect and admiration.