Some of the more interesting quotes about my latest piece include a forum writer who commended me for my endless defense of Barry Bonds; “Say what you will about Perricone, the guy's been defending Bonds for going on five years now.”
Thanks, I guess.
In truth, I think I've been more interested in defending Bonds' rights. The right to be treated fairly, to be held as innocent until proven guilty, the right to self-determination, and, of course, the right to be an asshole. I think I've also been criticizing the ham-handed, sanctimonious outrage and piety being displayed by so many of the members of the mainstream media, who are falling all over themselves in their efforts to prove that they will save the children, the heroes of the past, and, of course, by extension, us.
To them, I say, thanks but no thanks. I'm comfortable with controversy, I'm OK with sports stars who may not be perfect. I do, in fact, want our athletes to do amazing things, and I don't really care how they go about doing it. It has always been obvious to me that to perform at the highest levels in athletic competition, extreme measures have always been taken.
I have some context, that perhaps a writer like Lupica doesn't. I've worked in construction for most of the last 25 years, and I know what it's like to work through pain. I've shot myself in the leg with a nail gun and wrapped duct tape around it and kept going. I've had to drill a hole in my thumb nail to release the blood blister under it, and kept going. I've worked on a roof in three feet of snow, with a 20 mile an hour wind making the wind chill factor below zero, all day long, for days on end.
When I wasn't out in the field building houses, I worked in a mirror factory, I worked in a restaurant, I've worked with my body since I was 14 years old. In that time, I've taken every pill, literally, everything I could get my hands on, to make sure I could go to work every day. Until you do, maybe you can't understand. But I know that my readers who come from a similar background understand.
And when I read Bill Gilbert's account of the different players who do the same, I wonder, no, in fact, I know, the only difference between what Bob Gibson did and what I did was directly related to access.
If I would have had access to a physician whose sole purpose was to ensure that I got up and worked to the best of my ability, well, I mean, come on. Anybody would have made the same choice, and to suggest otherwise is more than disingenuous, it's flat out lying. Reading Bill Gilbert's followup piece makes that crystal clear:
…. ” 'Where's the Dexamyl, Doc?' I yelled at the trainer rooting about in his leather valise,” pitcher-author Jim Brosnan quoted himself as saying in his celebrated baseball book, Pennant Race. ” 'There's nothing in here but phenobarbital and that kind of stuff.'
” 'I don't have any more,' said Doc Rohde. 'Gave out the last one yesterday. Get more when we get home.'
” 'Been a rough road trip, huh, Doc? How'm I goin' to get through the day then? Order some more, Doc. It looks like a long season.'
” 'Try one of these,' he said.
” 'Geez, that's got opium in it. Whaddya think I am, an addict or something?' “
…. On good evidence—which includes voluntary admissions by physicians, trainers, coaches, athletes, testimony given in court or before athletic regulatory bodies, and autopsy reports—amphetamines have been used in auto racing, basketball, baseball (at all levels down to children's leagues), boxing, canoeing, cycling, football, golf, mountain climbing, Roller Derby, rodeo, Rugby, skating, skiing, soccer, squash, swimming, tennis (both lawn and table), track and field, weight lifting and wrestling.
The amphetamines, of which Benzedrine, Dexedrine, Dexamyl (which has a barbiturate added) and methamphetamine (the notorious “speed” or “Meth”), are among the best-known, affect the central nervous system and produce what might be called a triple threat.
They act indirectly to suppress hunger spasms, and for this reason are used as appetite-killing pills by jockeys, boxers, wrestlers and anybody else who has to make a weight.
The drug is a metabolic stimulant, speeding up the respiratory and circulatory systems and enabling users to remain hyperactive when they would ordinarily slow down because of fatigue.
Finally, the amphetamines act directly on the brain, inducing a sense of excitement and euphoria, a sort of I-can-lick-the-world high.
Let's not forget, this article was published June 30th, 1969, forty years ago. Bill Gilbert is saying that it was commonly known forty years ago that amphetamines, illegal or otherwise, were used in virtually every sport there was.
…. “I dope myself. Everyone [that is, everyone who is a competitive cyclist] dopes himself. Those who claim they don't are liars,” Jacques Anquetil, a five-time winner of the Tour de France and a French sports figure of the stature of a Jean-Claude Killy or a Michel Jazy, has said. “For 50 years bike racers have been taking stimulants Obviously, we can do without them in a race, but then we will pedal 15 miles an hour [instead of 25]. Since we are constantly asked to go faster and to make even greater efforts, we are obliged to take stimulants.”
Anquetil's remark was made i
n the summer of 1967 in the midst of what to date has been sports' messiest public drug scandal. Anquetil himself was much involved, both as a commentator and competitor. In May 1966, after winning a race in Belgium by nearly five minutes, he forfeited his victory and his check rather than provide a urine sample, which was to be analyzed for amphetamines or other banned drugs. In September 1967 a world speed record set by Anquetil in Milan was disallowed for the same reason. In between these two incidents there were two cycling deaths attributed to amphetamines, a number of suspensions at the Amsterdam world championships and a slowdown strike by cyclists protesting the fact that they were being forced to compete without the aid of their accustomed drugs.
Next time you read another slam-job article on Lance Armstrong –by one of these uninformed hacks– keep that in mind. One of the men whose record was broken by Armstrong was speaking openly of doping FORTY YEARS AGO!!!! Cycling almost fell apart because everyone was using speed, and nobody wanted to stop.
How about the major sports?
…. Among major American sports, amphetamine usage may be highest in football, or again it may only be easier to verify in this sport. Among professional clubs, players, physicians and trainers of the Steelers, Chargers, Cardinals, Lions and Redskins have indicated that chemical pep is or has been used. At least one professional football team made the taking of pep pills part of its pregame routine.
“It usually seems to be the older players and boys who think they need an extra lift to make it through a game that want them,” says Joe Kuczo, the Redskin trainer. “I personally am not convinced that they do much good, but it's a mental thing with some of them. They've been used to the pills. In the quantities they get here, at least, I doubt if they do much harm.”
You might notice the Steelers in there. The same Steelers who, in the last couple of seasons, have seen several of their championship teams of the 70's implicated in steroid use rumors.
And then there's pain:
…. In addition to exhaustion and tension, all athletes are at some time in some degree challenged by a third physiological phenomenon—pain. The relationship between pain and sports is ancient and close. For some, pain is the prohibitive price that makes games not worth playing; for others it is the secret but ultimate opponent. For most it is a necessary vocational byproduct.
Does knowing that there are reasons players use drugs mean it's OK to use them? Of course not. I'm not saying it's OK, but I'm also not saying it's not. I'm saying it's none of my business. You don't get to tell me I can't take a Percoset so my elbow pain goes away, allowing me to get back to work. Why should I be able to tell Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire what they can or can't do in order to be the best at their job? How is that even remotely acceptable?
The players and coaches and owners are there, in the game. The sportswriters cover the game. Since when did the sportswriters become the guardians of anything? Since when did they become the judge and jury? How did we get here? You wanna write about what these athletes do, go ahead. Stop telling me what's right and wrong. I don't need you to help me figure that out. Really. I'm a grownup, and I can handle saving my children by myself, thanks.
UPDATE: Is this even possible? Did Peter Gammons just link to my last post, and not only link to it, but cut and paste most of it? I am flabbergasted, to say the least:
…. We are blasted with the stun guns of moral outrage. Bud Selig claimed he knew nothing of the PED world until he read about Mark McGwire's andro in 1998; now he says he pushed the union for steroid testing in 1995. The incomplete Mitchell report never addressed where so many of the drugs came from, sticking with a couple of East Coast leaks and ignoring the underground steroids world of Latin America.
We now know that there are baseball players from the 1950s who had vision and other problems because of “red juice.” We read “Ball Four.”
John Perricone's superb “Only Baseball Matters” blog this week recalled a 40-year-old piece by Bill Gilbert in Sports Illustrated.
…. At the least, Perricone should make us all think. Alex Rodriguez's admission doesn't bring baseball to an end; it should help those who love the sport edge closer to the truth, and allow players who want level playing fields to force the union into finally allowing one.
I don't know the whole truth, no one does. That list of the 103 other players who tested positive in 2003 is out there and could become public, and there will be more stories and revelations. But this is more complex than simple good and evil, just as there has been a lot of good in what Presinal has provided young athletes in a poor country.
Perricone criticized some writers who really care about baseball and their kids and what has become so ugly. But it's not just Barry Bonds, Bobby Estalella and Alex Rodriguez — it's societal, and as Bill Gilbert pointed out in the first year of the Nixon presidency, has been for generations.
UPDATE, Part II: I seem to have made the bigs. Rob Neyer also threw me a link. Hoo Wah.