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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quote of the Day | March 15, 2009: Any Aid Short of Killing Himself

From John Perricone's excellent OnlyBaseballMatters.com blog and Bil Gilbert's 1969 Sports Illustrated expose on PEDs.

I have written –repeatedly– that I simply cannot believe that sportswriters like Mike Lupica and Rick Reilly and Tom Verducci only just recently discovered that athletes will use PED’s to improve their performance. I have stated again and again that the real reason –the ONLY reason– we have this “scandal” in baseball, and nowhere else, is because of the recent assault on the venerated baseball record book. I didn’t read this Sports Illustrated article when it came out 40 years ago, because I was only 5 years old, but, it raises the same questions for me again:

How do these sportswriters expect me to believe that they haven’t known what’s been going on in the world of elite athletic competition over these last four decades? How can they ask me to be outraged when most of them have watched this problem develop, and waited over three decades to start sounding the alarm?

Bill Gilbert, a writer I have never heard of, wrote this piece, a damning indictment of the widespread use of all sorts of PED’s. It was published in 1969, the same year we put a man on the moon.

“A few pills—I take all kinds—and the pain’s gone,” says Dennis McLain of the Detroit Tigers. McLain also takes shots, or at least took a shot of cortisone and Xylocaine (anti-inflammant and painkiller) in his throwing shoulder prior to the sixth game of the 1968 World Series—the only game he won in three tries. In the same Series, which at times seemed to be a matchup between Detroit and St. Louis druggists, Cardinal Bob Gibson was gobbling muscle-relaxing pills, trying chemically to keep his arm loose. The Tigers’ Series hero, Mickey Lolich, was on antibiotics.

“We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines]…. We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal…. We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium…. But I don’t think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts,” said Dr. I. C. Middleman, who, until his death last September, was team surgeon for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals.

Team surgeon? TEAM SURGEON!!!! How could that be? How could it be that the teams knew anything about this? The owners are paragons of virtue, men of impeccable character, who want nothing more than for the players to be healthy, happy and living on the same block as their sons and daughters, right?

How could a five-thousand word article, published in Sports Illustrated –which, in 1969, was THE preeminent publication on sports in America– not have been noticed?

Of course it was noticed. It was noticed to the point where the use of drugs continued, flourished and was an acknowledged part of the world of sports worldwide. And no one wrote about it, no one talked about it, no one did an Outside the Lines special report, no one did anything.

And in that type of environment, eventually, the drugs were gonna work. We have an NFL right now that has running backs as big as offensive linemen from championship teams of just a decade or so ago. We have baseball players bigger than offensive linemen as well. We have huge, super-fast, athletes everywhere you look, because the training programs, coupled with the tremendous advances in sports medicine, legal and otherwise, work. And one reason we know that they work is that athletes will do anything, will take any risk to win. The mantra, win at all costs, isn’t a slogan for a sports drink. It is the water these men and women swim in:

The whole matter has been succinctly summarized by Hal Connolly, a veteran of four U.S. Olympic teams.

“My experience,” says Connolly, “tells me that an athlete will use any aid to improve his performance short of killing himself.”

We all want to be better, and we all will do most anything to achieve that end. There’s nothing new about that. It’s part and parcel of being an American, and America’s influence is global. In the world of competitive sports, the end almost always justifies the means. Using PED’s is just one of the ways athletes place themselves in harm’s way. One of my favorite players just passed away. Brad Van Pelt was THE linebacker for the NY Giants when Bill Parcells and George Young drafted Lawrence Taylor. He died in his sleep at the age of 57, a familiar story for the families of retired football players. Retire athletes die younger, have many more physical problems, and generally live in a world of constant pain once their playing days are over.

To say that they shouldn’t use PED’s because it could harm them is disingenuous at best.


We live in a culture that has embraced the pharmacological fix. That our athletes do shouldn’t be thought of as wrong; it should be expected.

Tags: Bil Gilbert, Steroids, Sports Illustrated, John Perricone, Only Baseball Matters

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