- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Hold on a minute. I need to douse my keyboard with deer antler velvet spray. Maybe a couple of notebooks, too. Definitely a pen.

Slap a hologram sticker on my mouse. Probably should put one on my cell phone, just in case. You can never have protection from wayward frequencies on deadline.

Slip on a Phiten necklace. Can’t type without that titanium-infused nylon.

Swap my coffee for some negatively charged water and, heck, why not give everything another coat of the spray. It’s the good stuff from New Zealand.

Pop a couple Focusyn and, whew, I’m ready.

Oh, wait. That last one, an experimental drug from “The Simpsons,” doesn’t exist. The rest are real.

The only thing more predictable than the well-practiced howls of outrage that followed this week’s exposes about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and football is that athletes would search anywhere for an edge. Even if the quest led to, say, an innocent deer’s antlers or the Miami clinic of a failed businessman and pseudo-doctor named Anthony Bosch.

Why do we feign shock and recite the same tired lectures about the blight of such drugs on sports when, in reality, we’re a nation in search of that edge?

We take pills for everything. Forty-seven percent of us are on at least one prescription drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Visits to doctors led to 2.6 billion drugs ordered or provided in 2009 alone. Better sex. Sleep. Lose weight. Stay awake. Focus.

The dietary supplement industry rakes in $25 billion per year from more than 50,000 products, the National Institutes of Health estimates. Build muscle. Detox. Get happy. Better hair. Improve memory. Whatever you want, all through a dizzying array of gels, pills, bars, drinks, shots, sprays, creams and powders with names like horny goat weed and yohimbe bark.

But we blanch when athletes sacrificing their bodies for our entertainment look for the same advantage (nobody in your cubicle would blink if you popped Adderall in search of more attentiveness with your T.P.S. reports). Yes, steroids can be dangerous. No, you don’t want athletes forced into a sort of arms race where they can’t succeed without taking ever riskier steps that jeopardize their health. But look at a drug label. Damaging side effects are everywhere, not just the shady world of “Dr.” Bosch described in the Miami New Times’ 5,000-word investigation that ensnared Alex Rodriguez, mentioned Gio Gonzalez and fingered a host of others.

Denials from players involved, of course, emerged more quickly than the finger-wagging and consternation, as if baseball is the lone sport where some players pursue any means available to improve.

Thing is, we love what PEDs do, even if our conflicted relationship with those drugs in sports won’t allow us to admit as much.

There’s a moment in “The Simpsons” when Mark McGwire, no stranger to PED questions, appears in Springfield.

“Do you want to know the terrifying truth?” he asked. “Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?”

“Dingers!” the crowd roars.

That’s us. We want outfielders to hold up through 162 games. Quarterbacks to return quickly from injury. Young pitchers to improve. Linebackers to play on that painful ankle. Faster. Higher. Stronger.

Just don’t admit the cost.

Where is the line between what truly enhances performance and what truly hurts health? Unlimited supplies of Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy fill big-league clubhouses. Greenies, slang for amphetamines, were as much a part of baseball’s culture as a chaw of tobacco tucked in your mouth until they were banned in 2006. Cortisone shots helped pull the the Washington Nationals through 2012. Epidurals and Toradol injections are among the painkillers that keep banged-up NFL players on the field. An alphabet soup of nutritional supplements can be found in most any professional athlete’s locker.

The consequences aren’t much of a deterrent. Major League Baseball’s policy, perhaps the most enlightened of the four major U.S. sports, hits first-time offenders with a 50-game suspension without pay. Progress? Sure. But hardly an impediment to someone like Melky Cabrera. Before testing positive for PEDs in August, Cabrera won the All-Star Game’s MVP award and hit .346.

The punishment? Cabrera missed the San Francisco Giants’ World Series title but rebounded to sign a two-year, $16 million free-agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, the suspension cut into his future earnings. He still landed the best contract of his career.

The reward for swallowing or shooting or smearing the latest concoction is too great. The downside isn’t much of one. Try a yearlong suspension for the first offense, lifetime ban for the second. That’d slow the predictable cycle, at least give pause before letting your name appear in “Dr.” Bosch’s infamous notebook.

Or maybe that’s just the velvet deer antler talking. Anybody know how to wash this stuff off a keyboard?



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