Thursday, March 26, 2009

Caffeine...A Legal PED

According to The New York Times, "caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)."

According to the article, the benefits of caffeine are relevant to all athletes whether you are an endurance athlete or one involved in anaerobic activity. Previously, researchers thought the benefits of caffeine only entailed helping muscles use fat as a fuel, sparing the glycogen stored in muscles and increasing endurance.

Turns out, that caffeine increases the power output of muscles by releasing calcium that is stored in muscle. This effect can enable athletes to keep going longer or faster in the same length of time. Caffeine also plays tricks on the mind's sense of exhaustion, that feeling that it’s time to quit, and you can’t go on. The improvement in performance using caffeine may average about 5 percent, still significant if you goal is to obtain a personal record (PR).

A former sculler who competed nationally and internationally, Mike Perry, only knew one athlete who used caffeine. He said, “People would have psychological issues with using it (caffeine). They would see it as against the spirit of the law, even though it’s not against the law.”

Well said, against the spirit of law even though not against the law. At marathons across the country, there are several people crushing coffees before the start. I doubt any of these weekend warriors have any qualms with the spirit of law even though caffeine is not against the law. The problem with caffeine is that it is so prevalent in our culture. To expect a competitive athlete to give up coffee seems incredulous. If one's motives are looking for every shortcut to optimal performance and is popping Mountain Dew's before a 7am race, then one would have to question that individuals decisions.

But the question remains the same: Is doing something legal wrong in the pursuit of greatness? Mike Perry and his teammates seemed to think so.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Are Swimsuits Performance Enhancers?

In 2008, 108 swimming records were broken. Many were looking for an explanation as to how all the records were falling. During the Beijing Olympics, much attention was given to the new swimsuits created by Speedo. Some swimmers were wearing multiple swimsuits to increase their buoyancy during competition as Italian freestyler Federica Pellegrini wore two on her way to a gold medal in Beijing. It has been reported that some competitors have went with as many as three swimsuits looking for that competitive edge.

In an earlier post as to why athletes dope, athletes are always looking for an edge, real or perceived, legal or illegal, right or wrong. Even the average Joe is looking for an edge. Take Joe the Plumber from the 2008 presidential campaign. He didn't pay his taxes; whether right or wrong, he wanted to keep more of his money because he was greedy similar to these athletes' greed in driving them to take a "whatever means necessary" approach to “make it.”

In the world of swimming, the international governing body, FINA, has had enough of these shenanigans. On March 14th, they released a charter providing clarity on new international rules where technology and the number of suits will not be a factor in determining one's accomplishments. According to the charter:

• Swimsuits may no longer cover the neck or extend past the ankles or the shoulders.

• Swimmers may wear only one suit and will follow the body shape to avoid recent compression methods.

• Buoyancy and thickness will be measured by an independent testing team in Lausanne, Switzerland, led by Professor Jan-Anders Manson.

• All swimsuits, even those previously approved by FINA, must be submitted to the independent testing team by March 31.

The executive director of FINA, Cornel Marculescu, summed it up best when he told The New York Times, “Definitely the focus got to be too much on the technology instead of on natural development. The most important thing is we keep our values, and our values are the values of athletes, which is their physical preparation and effort."

The values of all athletes and the common Joe are what we, as a society, have been getting away from as we pursue what we think is going to be greatness. When others see what decisions these athletes made to achieve that greatness, only then will people have to reexamine their own values and allow us to experience the great moral awakening.

Friday, March 20, 2009

3 Breakdowns a Day Since the Derby

According to Nancy Heitzeg, a professor at St. Catherine’s University in Minnesota, that's how many horses are breaking down daily since Eight Belles was euthanized on the track at last year's Kentucky Derby. The question that people need to be asking is why?

William Rhoden of The New York Times attempts to address this issue in his column from today's paper. In it, he looks at whether or not legal medications are allowing race horses the ability to perform when in another era they would not be out on the track.

Rhoden cites that since January there have been seven fatal breakdowns at New York's Aqueduct Race Track. The breakdowns are not reserved to race conditions at the Aqueduct, a dirt surface; Santa Anita in California, a synthetic surface, has also seen seven fatal horse breakdowns since late December.

Paul J. Campo, the vice president and director of racing for the New York Racing Association, believes there is no rhyme or reason for the recent surge in fatal breakdowns. “I don’t think there is any explanation to it. It’s an unfortunate part of our industry that we don’t like. But we try to minimize any type of breakdowns we have using all the policies and procedures we have in place.”

I think I’ve heard that type of thinking before from other sports leagues in the past. Deny, deny, deny and think that all protections and procedures are in place when in reality they are not. Far from it, especially in a sport like horse racing when the horses have no say in what goes in their bodies. Rhoden lays out three types of legal drugs that should be curtailed. They are: Lasix (race-day drug used to prevent bleeding of the lungs), nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. phenylbutazone, flunixin and ketoprofen since they mask deficiencies in certain horses) and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (used to decrease inflammation).

If more fatal breakdowns occur on horse racing’s biggest stage, look for more outcry leading to even more change for the sport. Hopefully, the leaders will look at the numbers and instead of citing bad luck, realize that there is something bigger and more pronounced going on and that they have the ability to curtail more horse breakdowns in the future. Perhaps policies and procedures will need to change…again.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You Know Roids Are Prevalent When...

This guy admitted to roiding up in the early 80's.

Chuck Nevitt, who was a NBA player from the 80's, admitted in a Sports Illustrated column to experimenting with roids after graduating from college. He stopped juicing after he didn't see any of the benefits that were advertised.

Nevitt was known more for his height at 7'5" rather than for his basketball ability. He didn't set the league on fire with blocked shots or scoring. Yet, he still felt the need to roid up. Granted this was during a time when the NBA did not ban the use of PED's, but why did a 7'5" giant feel the need to cut a corner?

If he was willing to juice, how many others have and are doing so? There are many athletes in their quest to make it to the big time who are looking for any edge to get them over the hump. It's this greed and unchecked ambition that comprise an individual's morals and they will pay for their short term decisions in the long term.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mark McGwire is Back in Baseball...Still Not Talking About the Past

On the fourth year anniversary from when Mark McGwire testified before Congress and refused to "talk about the past", he has finally come out from hiding and is once again participating in baseball. Over the winter, he worked as a hitting instructor to four current ball players: Matt Holliday, Bobby Crosby (both of the Oakland A's) and Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker (both of the St. Louis Cardinals).

In an interview with The New York Times, McGwire refused to talk about the past invoking specific stipulations in order for the interview to occur. "In this instance, McGwire agreed to an interview with the understanding that it would focus on his work as a hitting tutor, and not on other issues. But at one point, McGwire did address the criticism he has received for being linked to performance-enhancing drugs."

In addressing the PED issue and what others can learn from him by tutoring, McGwire said, "I’m such an easygoing guy. I don’t need to sweep away any bitterness. I believe I have so much knowledge to give and help people improve as baseball players."

According to the article McGwire focused on strengthening their minds which McGwire considered "as the batters’ most powerful and least developed muscle". I wonder if this observation came from personal experience that the mind was Big Mac's least developed muscle back in his day. Did he not have the self confidence or the inner strength that he could perform at the highest level without the assistance of PED's?

Matt Holliday doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about his association with McGwire. "I wouldn’t ever not want to have somebody in my life that could be a good friend or somebody I could really enjoy or learn from based on what other people might think about it,” he said.

Bobby Crosby echoed what the other players' and McGwire felt throughout the experience. "You can definitely tell he loves teaching, and he loves baseball.”

Crosby's quote aside, reading the article, one could feel the passion burning in McGwire while he talked about the game; it jumped off the page. This is why his current situation is so sad. His exile is self-imposed. If he wants to get to the Hall of Fame, get into coaching, he needs to own up to what he did and talk about the past. Only then will the public be able to move on as will Big Mac.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Athletes Roid Up

Why do people decide to use PED's?

Baseball players so far have never given a straightforward answer. Most recently, A-Rod claimed naivete. After the release of the Mitchell Report and names were named, typical responses were "I didn't know what I was taking" or "I wanted to get back on the field faster and help my team." We never got an honest answer such as "I was lacking self confidence and didn't think my natural abilities alone would take me to the MLB level and land me that fat contract."

After watching Christopher Bell's documentary film, Bigger, Stronger, Faster*: Is It Still Cheating if Everyone's Doing It?, some plausible answers emerge and more questions arise. People use PED's because they see it's the only way to get ahead and be more like their "heroes." In one scene, a mother asks her son, why he had to use PED's; what was wrong with his body as it was naturally. Other questions that emerge from the film, a scene where members of an orchestra are using attention deficit drugs to maintain their focus during a performance. This is deemed "normal," but not in sports. Why the discrepancy?

One pro athlete to chime in on the A-Rod debate put the question of why athletes roid up in proper perspective. Pro wrestler (whether pro wrestling is a sport is a post for another day) Rob Van Dam said on his radio show in February, "You have to sacrifice everything to make your dreams come true. You got a chance to enhance your odds, (expletive) yeah. If you don't go for it, you're just not dedicated."

This quote is telling. If that is truly the mindset of the modern athlete then more people are using PED's and will continue to use PED's and look for every conceivable shortcut...because if you aren't roiding, your competition is and will beat you out of your contract, endorsements and fame.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cashman Allegedly Wanted Giambi to Roid Up

According to The New York Times, Jeff Pearlman's new book, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth" recounts an incident that Brian Cashman, the general manager of the Yankees has taken issue with.

According to the book, in 2002 when Giambi went through a slump during his first year as a Yankee, Cashman was heard yelling at a television in the Yankees’ clubhouse during a game. Citing “one New York player,” the book said that Cashman screamed, “Jason, whatever you were taking in Oakland,” get back on it. Per the book, Cashman then added, “Please!”

Cashman strongly denied the incident ever took place. Cashman said, “That is completely false. This guy (Pearlman) never even called me and asked me if it was true. You think he would have done some fact-checking.”

Pearlman stands by his account, but acknowledged he should have reached out to Cashman. He said, "The source was a Yankee player who was an eyewitness and in whom I have 100 percent confidence. He (Cashman)’s totally right. I didn’t call him for comment and I should have. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t correct.”

What's most interesting is the timing of this incident. The year was 2002. Jason Giambi's BALCO grand jury testimony was leaked to the media in 2004, a full two years later. If what is alleged is true, how did Brian Cashman know Giambi was roiding in Oakland? Who else knew? This flies against all general managers and baseball executives who have been on record as saying they didn't know anything about anyone. Seems as if someone is not being completely forthright in this matter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Clemens Allegedly Injected at Yankee Stadium

In the latest episode of the Roger Clemens - Brian McNamee saga, McNamee was quoted in detail to the Web site explaining how he injected Clemens and where.

McNamee was quoted in an item posted Wednesday, "One of the needles I gave the government was used to inject Clemens with steroids in either July or August of 2001. The place was his high-rise apartment, which is located off the corner of 90th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. ... "

"That day, he laid out the drugs, dropped his trousers and I did as he asked, that is, inject him with steroids. Afterwards, he told me to get rid of the needle. I went into the kitchen and found an empty Miller Lite can in a wastebasket under the sink. I put the used needle into the can because it was actually hazardous material at that point and I didn't want anyone to get hurt by sticking themselves. He told me to throw it away but I kept it instead."

In addition, he told the Web site: "Sometimes it was in the Jacuzzi at Yankee Stadium."

During the Mitchell investigation, McNamee described injecting Clemens at the pitcher's apartment. The new details to emerge this week are that some injections took place at the stadium and that the Rocket drinks Miller Lite.

Brian McNamee, by laying out more details of the case to less well known media outlet, has put more of his chips in the center of the table. The Rocket and his legal team have matched his call by going with the "duh" blast when it was reported that PED's were found on the materials McNamee provided.

Again, Brian McNamee has no motive to lie. It's been understood that all of his previous information provided to investigators has been truthful. Why lie now? Taint evidence and keep needles for 8 years? This theory makes absolutely no sense. The Rocket on the other hand might be tempted to portray his accomplishments and legacy as one that was done the "proper" way and that he didn't "cheat to win, a similar tact A-Rod took until he was called out.

It will be interesting to see how this drama plays out in the upcoming months.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nailed: PED's Found on Mac's Materials Linked to Rocket

The New York Times reported today that the drug paraphernalia Brian McNamee submitted to federal authorities and was found to have Roger Clemens DNA on it has now been confirmed to have PED's on them as well. Not good news for the Rocket.

Last month, federal prosecutors had linked Clemens’s DNA to blood residue in at least one of the syringes that McNamee handed over to authorities. Upon this latest discovery, the Rocket's attorney, Rusty Hardin, fired off this response. “Duh. Do you really think McNamee was going to fabricate this stuff and not make sure there were substances on there? The fact is Roger never used steroids or H.G.H.”

Going with "duh" is an epic response Rusty! Was "liar, liar pants on fire" overused? Again, these two men are buried deep in their respective foxholes, but the question remains: why would Mac tell the truth about Andy Pettitte, but lie when it comes to Clemens? It makes no sense. Mac had no incentive to lie to the Mitchell investigators, and every incentive to tell the truth or face prosecution.

Also interesting to note in the article is the reemergence of Dr. Don Catlin. He was going to oversee Lance Armstrong's drug testing during his return to cycling, but both parties mutually separated ways and Catlin never tested one sample.

Catlin is conducting the tests on these materials. Since 2002, Catlin has been the lead drug-tester for federal prosecutors which is one reason Armstrong possibly wanted to associate with him. Last month, federal prosecutors said that Catlin had found PED's in a 2003 urine sample from Barry Bonds. The feds are hoping to use this retest in the Bonds' perjury trial which has been delayed until the summer.

Too bad we'll never know what Catlin would have found if he worked with Armstrong.

USA Track to Pay for Performance

After USA Track & Field laid an egg at the Beijing Games this past summer winning only seven gold medals, Doug Logan, the organization's CEO, has a plan to bring glory back to the team: pay for performance.

Logan recommended paying a $15,000 bonus to those who achieved personal bests (PR) at the Games and a $5,000 bonus to those for a PR during the season. If those athletes win medals at the Games, those payments are assumed to be in addition to awards the United States Olympic Committee already hands out: $25,000 to gold-medal winners, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

Will this new financial incentive lead to more doping in track & field? Probably. This new financial incentive for optimal performance has increased the temptation to dope and collect a possible $40,000 payment. Athletes may be swayed to load up on PED's. Previous World Fastest Men have come under scrutiny and Marion Jones has admitted to being a chasing the all mighty dollar.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Selig Still in Denial about Role in Roid Era

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig still does not get it.

Speaking to the media last week in Arizona, he defended his role in the roid era that will ultimately define his tenure rather than implementing a wild card, inter league play and other clever marketing ideas to keep the turnstiles spinning after the 1994 work stoppage.

"It's been an interesting experience for me in the respect that we've cleaned the game up. I'm proud of where we are.''

Selig said, if there's work still to be done, it's in being able to test for human growth hormone. He said, "there's not a test, regardless of what people say. If there's a test we'll use it. I can't wait to sit down and tell you that we now have a test for HGH.''

Selig's frustrated with this topic, however. "If I sound frustrated it's because you get into revisionism 15-20 years later and it's the wrong set of facts you're revising,'' Selig said. "My frustration is we started (steroid education) in 1998. Where were we sleeping?''

You were sleeping from 1991 until drug testing was put in place. Steroids have been banned in baseball at the MLB level since 1991 when Fay Vincent added them to baseball's then drug policy. After the 1994 strike and the public outrage that ensued, MLB needed something to get the fans back on their side and into the ballpark. The first year was Cal Ripken hitting the streak and then it was the gradual assault on the home run record that generated the buzz. How could the Commissioner, a former owner, put the halt on a booming business, falling records and an insatiable appetite following his game? The Commissioner could have done the right thing if he had a moral compass, questioned what was going on (he prides himself on being a baseball historian), but instead he chose the path of least resistance and the game has suffered as a result. Bud Selig is not the only one to blame; the MLBPA fought drug testing every step of the way as Selig is found of reminding people. Clean players also did not speak up.

Other areas that show Selig doesn't get it: he states he's cleaned up the game, but then admits there's no test for HGH. Bud, it can't be both ways! The job of cleaning up the game is not finished nor will it ever be: the cheaters will always be out in front of the testers. Cleaning up the sport is not a task like cleaning your car; the latter can be accomplished, the former needs to be constantly monitored and can never be deemed "finished" because someone will always be looking for an advantage. Other than those points, you should be very proud of your accomplishments on this issue.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tony Mandarich Owns It...After the Fact

In this week's Sports Illustrated, Rick Telander, follows up on the Tony Mandarich cover story he wrote in 1989. Mandarich comes clean and admits to steroid and HGH use back in the day both while playing in the NFL and college football for the Michigan State Spartans (MSU). He also admits being hooked on painkillers throughout his NFL careear. All of this is detailed in his book, My Dirty Little Secrets-Steroids, Alcohol and Painkillers: The Tony Mandarich Story.

It was primarily Mandarich's size and SI's initial coverage that led NFL scouts to drool over him at the 1989 NFL Draft where the Green Bay Packers selected him second, ahead of Barry Sanders, Derek Thomas and Deion Sanders. He lasted three years with the Pack, considered one of the biggest busts until Ryan Leaf hit the 1998 draft and redefined the word.

Mandarich in his book alleges that 15 members of the MSU Rose Bowl squad were on the juice. Similar to the crisis in baseball where no one knew that anyone was using roids, the former coach at MSU, George Perles, has a similar recollection: "I wouldn't know about steroids. The NCAA did all the testing. They're the ones you should talk to." Perles is now a member of the school's board of trustees.

In the article, Tony states how he essentially created the Whizzinator in eluding the NCAA from detection after roiding up before the 1988 Rose Bowl. Per Mandarich: "[For] the Rose Bowl in 1988, we were tested two weeks before on campus, and then we heard there was going to be a second test [in Pasadena]. I'd already gotten back on Anadrol-50 (brand name for oxymetholone), a steroid which makes you significantly stronger within a day or two, and now I'm freaking. I'm in this large 24-hour store, about midnight, brainstorming, thinking how am I going to beat this test?

"In the pet area I see this rubber doggy squeaker toy. I get that, then I go to another area and get a small hose, and in the medical area I get some flesh-colored tape. I'm like the Unabomber getting supplies. Back home I rip the squeakers out of the toy, tape the hose into one end and experiment by filling the thing with water. At the Rose Bowl I taped the toy to my back, ran the hose between my butt cheeks, taped the end to my penis, and covered the hose tip with bubble gum. I had gotten some clean urine from somebody else. The tester stood behind me, couldn't see anything, and when I removed the gum everything worked fine."

Mandarich improved upon his Rose Bowl invention at the Gator Bowl the following year by customizing a squeezable glue bottle to replace the doggy toy. "A quarter twist of the cap, no leak, no moving parts—it was almost too easy," he says.

At least Tony is being honest now. Let's ignore for the moment that he lied all throughout his career and as recently as 2003 when he was quoted in article as not living up to the expectations on the football field. I'm sure this admission had nothing to do with selling a book.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kentucky Derby to "Super Test" Winning Horses

It's been awhile since my last two posts on horse racing, but the sport is making news two months before the Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs in a release this past Monday said it will implement new safety measures for this year's Derby and all of its tracks. All winning horses will get a "super test" for more than 100 types of drugs exceeding the previously required amount. Other safety measures included are extending the safety tests for track surfaces, banning certain types of whips and prohibiting horses younger than 24 months old from racing.

Good for Churchill Downs for instituting the "super test", but one has to wonder why not provide the test for all participants? If the goal is to prevent all the cheats, super test everyone, not just the winners.

Any good news is a step in the right direction for this sport after the year horse racing had. Since last year's Derby, there was a Congressional hearing, another suspension for trainer Rick Dutrow, the euthanizing on the track last year of Derby runner up, Eight Belles, and the realization that Derby winner Big Brown was roided out of its mind on Winstrol and didn't win the Triple Crown when he wasn't on the juice.

This racing season will probably have its share of drama, shocking revelations and a suspension or two. In other words, business as usual.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

2 Weeks of Baseball Roid Issues

I've been away for a couple of weeks and was passing through San Francisco on Tuesday looking forward to get the latest blow by blow details of the Barry Bonds trial, but when I picked up my copy of the San Francisco Chronicle, not one mention of the trial; an appeal delayed the start of the trial until the summer.

In other roid related developments during my break, the A-Rod alibi unraveled further. Memo to all: tell the truth the first around. You'll feel much better and not come off as such a dimwit.

His cousin, Yuri Sucart, who allegedly supplied the banned substances was identified. The explanation did not hold water since A-Rod said the substances were purchased over the counter in the Dominican Republic, yet during that time period, 2001 - 2003, one could not obtain the substances he reportedly tested positive for over the counter in the DR back then. It was also revealed that A-Rod was associated with the trainer Angel Presinal. If one wants to be associated with roids, work out and hang out with Presinal. He has been accused of distributing steroids to major league players and has been barred from major league clubhouses since 2001. He was also mentioned in the Mitchell Report. That checkered past didn't appear to bother A-Rod since he trained with him as recently as 2007.

Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate and came to the defense of his teammate while at the same time professing his innocence at the beginning of spring training. Jeter said, “One thing that’s irritating and really upsets me a lot is when you hear people say that everybody did it. Everybody wasn’t doing it.”

Unfortunately for DJ, his calls of "playing the right way" are falling on deaf ears. Why? Because his teammates have said similar things in the past such as A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi only to have their assertions either be false or seriously questioned. DJ can tell me all about how not everyone was cheating and that your father was a drug counselor, but all the lies from your teammates who have uttered the same exact thing have made all players guilty until proven innocent.

Lastly, it was being reported that many players are reporting to spring training much smaller. George Vecsey labeled this phenomenon, The Incredible Shrinking Baseball Player, reporting that players are now turning to yoga, athletic video games, nutritionists, getting more sleep and giving up beer and or soda to be more nimble and athletic. Sceptics would say it's the polar opposite of five years ago when players were showing up bulked up claiming that they were cranking the weights.

Don't be shocked when home run totals dip this year at least the players will be more nimble and athletic stretching singles into doubles.

No Surprise: Straw Would've Roided Up

In an admission that shocked absolutely no one, Darryl Strawberry told the news media in Florida this week that if he was presented with roids during his playing days, he would have taken them. His comments came about when the topic of A-Rod was discussed.

Straw elaborated his position on the issue by saying, “I’m not saying that was the right thing to do, but somebody asked me, if I’d faced it, what would I have done? If that was going on in the ’80s, it definitely would have been in my system, too.”

“I was stupid, too, when I was 24, 25,” he added, referring to Rodriguez’s comments that he was stupid during the time he used steroids. “I’ve done a lot of stupid things.”

Darryl Strawberry saying he's done a lot of stupid things is in the running for understatement of the year. but that's why the public will be clamoring for his tell-all book about 80's excess in the NY Mets' clubhouse.