By Christopher Heun
I’m sick of hearing about steroids.
No, not because the latest revelation – or desperate accusation, depending on your point of view – forces Orioles fans to stomach Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons as juicers, along with oft-accused teammate Miguel Tejada. As sad as that is, and as much as we don’t want to believe it (and who really does, anyway?), that’s not the real problem.
I’m sick of hearing about steroids because everything we hear about performance-enhancing drugs and sports – not just in baseball but track and field and cycling, too – is nothing but conjecture, wild finger pointing and leaked testimony or test results, followed by fervent denials from the accused and an extra helping of conjecture by the rest of us. In the end, we don’t know whom to believe.
Rarely is there any proof. Despite all the suspicions about them, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa never failed a drug test. Remember, it was Bonds’s December 2003 testimony to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative grand jury, transcripts of which were later illegally leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, that ignited the media scrutiny of the indignant superstar.
The Chronicle reporters responsible for the BALCO story, who together wrote the book on Bonds and steroids, "Game of Shadows," now face 18 months in jail, pending an appeal, for refusing to disclose the source who leaked the grand jury testimony to them.
Meanwhile, Bonds passes Babe Ruth and edges closer to Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, while Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, two more BALCO All-Stars, still swing their bats in what has become their annual run of October baseball. It's mind-boggling that an investigation of illegal drug use by professional athletes would lead to the imprisonment not of any of the athletes who actually used steroids but to the reporters who wrote about the BALCO trial.
The latest bombshell, delivered by Jason Grimsley in April and reported last week by the Los Angeles Times, names the three Birds along with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte as players whose identities were redacted from a search warrant affidavit filed in Phoenix on May 31.
That search warrant was made public by federal investigators. Those investigators now say that the Times' sources, who told the paper some of what had been blacked out of the public copies, got their facts wrong. However, no one is volunteering to set the record straight.
There might be a grain of truth buried in Grimsley’s allegations, but how would anyone know? There certainly aren’t any test results to back up his claims. If it weren’t for rumors, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.
All five players named in the Times story deny using steroids, but that won’t erase the stain on their reputations. Outside of baseball, the story is much the same. Marion Jones found out last month that a second urine sample came back negative, thus exonerating her, after an initial test found the blood-boosting substance EPO. Floyd Landis failed a test during the Tour de France, but the results remain in dispute more than two months later.
People with access to test results, court testimony and search warrants are handing the information to reporters, sometimes in violation of the law. Martin Dugard, author of Chasing Lance, a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Tour de France, has had enough of trying athletes in the court of public opinion:
Everyone from the Tour de France, to WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), to the federal prosecutors investigating Major League baseball has gotten in the habit of leaking privileged and confidential information long before any formal charges are filed. Those leaks (an unfortunate coincidence, but it's appropriate that testing involving urine samples is actually "leaked") make headlines. Those headlines are splashed around the world. And those headlines form opinions -- yours and mine.There has to be a better way to sort through this mess. We have a fascination with knowing who cheated with steroids (and then, curiously, once we know and they "apologize" – witness Giambi – we forget it ever happened). But the truth is, we will never know for certain who was juicing before 2005 because there were no tests in place with publicized results.
So, the next time headlines scream about some guilty player naming his teammates from three years ago as fellow juicers, I don’t want to hear about it.
If Bonds manages to pass Aaron as the home run king next year -- a prospect that countless fans, along with Bud Selig, are rooting against -- I won't accept it. Bar-roid has already made a mockery of the record book.
The slow response by the commissioner or anyone else in baseball to crack down on steroids in the sport, coupled with the failure to this day to develop a test for human growth hormone, ensures that we’ll never know for certain who did what.
For all the press attention of the past few years and the cloud of suspicion over many of the game's best players, nothing's really changed. The best we can hope for is that the tests that are in place now discourage future drug use. And where's the comfort in that?