- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009


It’s been quite a week, what with Michael Vick’s reinstatement, Tom Brady’s return and the start of NFL training camps. The baseball trading deadline passed. Cliff Lee went, Roy Halladay stayed. A once-proud Pittsburgh franchise replaced its pirate flag with a white flag and deep-sixed the last remnants of a big league roster.

But the big news came from two separate controversies in two separate sports separated by thousands of miles, yet inexorably linked. Whether it’s a PED (performance-enhancing drug) or PES (performance-enhancing suit), we again were reminded of the strongest and most profound bond among athletes. No, not teamwork or the joy of competition. It’s doing whatever it takes.

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, whose real crime might be helping unleash the insufferable “Red Sox Nation” on civilization, reportedly showed up on the 2003 list of major leaguers who failed drug tests. Manny we knew about, thanks to his 50-game suspension. The surprise (to some, anyway) was Ortiz, who overnight grew from an OK player into the larger-than-life Big Papi. Yeah, he grew, all right.

The news produced the usual responses ranging from here-we-go-again ennui to sanctimonious outrage to ramblings about the “steroid era” and Hall of Fame considerations. Meanwhile, the dopers got standing ovations, as others will when the next batch of names comes out.

Fortunately, the concept of heightened performance via chemical imbalance paddled in a new direction at the world swimming championships in Rome. It wasn’t what the swimmers were taking, it was what some of them were wearing — high-tech suits made of exotic, man-made fibers that provided superpowers, or at least helped shave several seconds off record times.

Apparently, anyone who dons these magic suits becomes Aquaman. The real Aquaman doesn’t wear them, and Michael Phelps actually lost. Coaches complained, swimmers sniped and lots of people generally got their Speedos in a bunch. The righteous indignation over the soon-to-be-banned “X-Glide” suit (it even sounds evil) rivaled that of steroid critics. Bravo. Anything to upset the boring, normal order. Other than Phelps, the sport could use something interesting.

In addition to Phelps, in and out of the pool, swimming now has the universally crowd-pleasing elements of controversy, complaining and trash-talking. It also has intense, serious discussions that include the words “textiles” and “polyurethane.” Which, of course, is just what any sport needs.

He said what?

“I’m kind of glad I didn’t throw a no-hitter. If I do that on the first try, I would have to be living up to some high expectations.” — Cliff Lee on his Phillies debut, a four-hit, complete-game victory against San Francisco

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