Doper Madness - NBC New York

Doper Madness

The media's drug frenzy



    Doper Madness
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    Outfielder Barry Bonds has spent more time in court over the last year than he has on the field. He is battling federal perjury charges in the BALCO laboratory steroids investigation. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

    The free daily AMNew York plastered it on its Monday front page, "Hall of Shame"!  There, facing the readers were Barry Bonds, Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez.  If nothing else, the placement of the story just goes to show how out-of-control the media and the judicial system has gotten over drugs and sports (especially drugs in sports). 

    But here's an obvious question: In the above-mentioned AM New York cover, which one of these does not belong? That would be Michael Phelps. No one has accused him of "cheating." The only "edge" that he has received in his training has been with the thousands of carbs -- pizza, primarily -- that he loads up on during his arduous training routine.

    Michael Phelps was found partaking of a marijuana inducing instrument called a bong, i.e. a water pipe (see, even when he's not training, he can't keep away from the water! He was doing this while partying with friends (obviously, not well-known friends, since one of them sold his cellphone-picture to a news organization.

    Phelps wasn't using a substance to get an illegal edge over a competitor. He was using an illegal substance, yes, to have fun. Now, this happens to be one of the most commonly-used illegal subsances in the country. It is an illegal substance that Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, and a whole host of other members of the political class have all admitted using.

    Of course, that doesn't stop the authorities from hunting down the Phelps partiers. Far from using substances to get an edge, Phelps, if anything is a physical marvel who has sacrificed much to keep his body in peak form -- thus enabling him to win 12 gold medals over the last two Summer Games.  Yes, he has demonstrated -- with a DUI in 2004 and this pot-smoking incident -- that he is susceptible to judgment issues post-Olympics. So, yes, he parties to excess. Yeah, well so what? After sacrificing to excess, perhaps that's his idea of balance? (Except for getting in the car after drinking -- that's a universally accepted really stupid move.)  This is textbook definition of "youthful indiscretion."

    Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds are birds of a different feather.

    The Wall Street Journal put A-Rod's steroid confession on its front page Tuesday -- the same day that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was going to unveil his bank bailout package!  Yes, A-Rod is now become the biggest profile, mid-career athlete to be revealed as a steroid/performance-enhancing-drug user.

    Mark McGwire was already retired when his steroid use was revealed. Bonds was near the end of what would have been a Hall of Fame career even absent the boost he evidently received in the 2001-2004 period. That was when Bond's production jumped when his age suggested it should have been fading (around the same time Roger Clemens' numbers went through the same odd spike. So, yes the news is big, but let's have some proportion here, folks! 

    A-Rod is still close to the prime of his career -- though he uses the "I was young" excuse to try to absolve him of guilt.  He can actually restore his image over the next several years. Taking him at his word (admittedly a sketchy proposition), his average since the steroid-admitted period of 2001-03 hasn't been that bad: .305 AVG.. 41 home runs, 123 RBIs. He won American League MVP in both 2005 and 2007, years when Major League Baseball was testing for steroids -- and those who had previously been found with juice in their system were placed on an enhanced testing regimen.

    In short, baseball writers who vote on induction into the MLB Hall of Fame will have a much greater body of work from which to decide whether Rodriguez belongs in the HOF. And, again, that will be a good five years -- at least -- after he has retired. In that narrow sense, he's a bit lucky than his other steroid posse: He can let his performances on the field "testify" to his actual talent (whether he ends up breaking Bonds' lifetime home run record or not).

    Meanwhile, Barry Bonds is universally assumed to have regularly used steroids. He states that he used so-called flaxseed which, he admits might have had PEDs in it -- but he didn't know that that was in it. Sure, Barry.  

    Now, he's on trial for perjury in his testimony in the BALCO laboratory doping case. Yet last week, a judge stated that she was inclined to throw out a good deal of the federal government's positive tests evidence on Bonds, because of chain-of-custody concerns. Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, has vowed never to testify against the ballplayer. (It was that same investigation that led the feds to seize the testing samples of the 104 major leaguers who tested positive for steroids in 2003 (of which A-Rod was one). The MLB Players Association was within its rights to destroy those samples which were supposed to remain confidential, as per the baseball collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the MLB PA held onto them long enough for their existence to become known to the feds.)

    Bonds evidently cheated and the federal government has gone to great lengths to prove that he lied about his use of steroids. His reputation is in tatters; he may never get into the Hall of Fame; but the odds have seriously fallen that he will end up in jail. And, again, there is A-Rod. He admits to cheating; yet he was partly betrayed by his own union, because it didn't destroy his drug test, when it was legally obliged to do so.

    Now that he has admitted he cheated, does the media stop there: No, now the question is who gave him the 'roids? And exactly what type were they? Who else was taking them? Is this real journalistic curiosity -- or just a disturbing overly voyeuristic sensibility overwhelming any sense of perspective? It seems like there's more than just a pound of flesh at stake here.

    This is about sports, right? Remember when we were kids and we used to say, "Don't make a federal case out of this?" Today's combination of celebrity culture, intrusive media and an over-eager judicial system can make a federal case out of almost anything -- usually to protect "the kids."

    The most honest "media" person today assessing our culture's obsession over drugs?  Try Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers who said on last week's show:  “Parents, if your kid says Michael Phelps smokes pot, why can’t I? Say you can, as soon as you win 12 gold medals for your country.” Fourteen medals, actually, but forgive Seth his short-term memory loss. 

    He's right.