Monday, March 20, 2006

How Baseball’s “Culture Of Permissiveness” Contributed To The Drug Scandal

Did baseball’s culture of permissiveness give the players an excuse for using performance-enhancing drugs?

As a result of the “Steroids in Baseball” issue there has been a lot written – and said – about a “culture of permissiveness” that existed in Major League Baseball. The prevailing wisdom - or “P.W.” - on this subject is that for at least the past 50 years MLB knew that players were using amphetamines in order to get through the season, and that depending who you are listening to this use was on the order of about 70% of the players.

At the dawn of the steroid era, which despite what you may think started in the 80’s and not the 90’s, the P.W. employs the logic that since baseball already allowed – by ignoring – players to use “uppers,” the players had no reason to believe the league wouldn’t want them to use steroids. Especially since there were no rules that expressly banned steroids.

As baseball players started to look like football players, and the teams and the league reveled in the power and glory of the resulting emergence of the long ball, players had even more incentive to “juice up.” Teams like the Oakland A’s celebrated the size and power of their players, and even had a season long power lifting competition among the players, the results of which were posted on a blackboard in their clubhouse.

Other teams picked up on the lead set by the Oakland A’s, and certainly nobody in the league office wanted to do anything to derail this power train…after all chicks dig the long ball.

Which brings us back to the question of, “Did baseball’s culture of permissiveness give the players an excuse for using performance-enhancing drugs?”

The short answer is, “No!”

Here’s the long answer. There is no doubt that the baseball hierarchy – including the players union - knew that players were using drugs. This is evidenced by the way all parties conducted themselves during labor negotiations, negotiations that specifically dealt with drugs and drug testing. Speed was never prohibited, steroids were never prohibited, and there were no real testing measures in place to deter players from using, nor were there any real penalties in place to punish the players in the unlikely event anyone got busted.

This permissive culture did exist in MLB.

The problem with ascribing this excuse to the players for their use of these drugs is that the players themselves – with 2 notable exceptions – have NOT used this excuse!

Besides Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti no player has come out and said that they used steroids because they worked, they needed them and they knew that no one would stop them because steroids weren’t prohibited by baseball. Canseco has been unrepentant in recounting his use of the juice and is on record as saying that there is no way he would have accomplished what he did if not for the steroids. He also has said that since the teams and the league knew that players were already using other drugs to improve their performance – amphetamines – the players who used saw no reason not to use steroids.

Now you can agree or disagree with Canseco, but he has owned up to what he did. If Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire came out and said the same thing, steroids in baseball would be a dead issue, or at least not the scandalous issue that has become. If McGwire had told us that that baseball knew what was going on and subtly encouraged this drug use his critics would have had a very tough time countering this position.

If Mark McGwire had come clean on this issue the vast majority of people would have taken his side. The players would have had the sympathy and understanding of their fans, and while actions may have been taken to keep steroid out of the game, this situation certainly would not have escalated to the present day’s scandal.

Instead, these guys decided to insult our intelligence; McGwire, by repeating his "I'm not here to talk about the past" mantra, and Bonds by telling us that he thought he was taking flax seed oil — flax seed oil that cost thousands of dollars.

But here’s the kicker. Despite the fact that the league didn’t expressly forbid the use of steroids, and despite the fact that many fans would have taken their side, these guys ALL know that using steroids is CHEATING. Deep down these players know that the vast majority of their peers aren’t using, and the users know that they would earn the ire of their fellow union members if they admitted steroid use. The users know that by using they are making more money than the non-users and setting records and earning accolades that other wise would go to the clean players. Steroid use does not occur in a vacuum.

I haven’t heard any player – user or not – express the position that since steroids weren’t specifically prohibited, that steroid use was ok. Fans and other supporters of these players have used this line of thinking, but not players. Players have used the argument that there aren’t a lot of steroid users, but never has the “it’s not cheating” argument been used.

MLB certainly can be held complicit in this whole mess but the players who have used, by denying their use, are ultimately to blame for their actions. For cheating.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Barry Bonds Has Used Steroids, New Book Alleges.

Since it seems like the Barry Bonds scam is coming to an end, I thought that this would be a good time for me to reprint an item I wrote almost 3 years ago where I told people something was not kosher with the Bonds, Conte Balco Labs relationship. For your reading pleasure...

Considering the current state of training techniques for athletes, Barry Bonds’ training routine is antiquated at best. The program is counter-productive since this is actually just a bodybuilder’s routine. From a program design standpoint, the five-day split, as is presented in the article, is a waste of time and effort. Three to four days during the off-season, and two to three days in-season is more than enough. And for an older, well-trained athlete, less time is required for training.

There seems to be only two ground based compound movements – squats and lunges. If Bonds squats in a Smith Machine (dangerous) – like the Angels’ Brad Fullmer (featured in another baseball-related article in this issue of M&F) – then Bonds is really doing only one ground based compound movement. This program is dominated by isolation (single joint), equipment-based movements and does nothing to maintain/improve range of motion, balance and joint stability. Not acceptable.

Furthermore, there are no explosive movements (cleans, jerks) incorporated in this program, which is not only unacceptable, it is shocking. Collegiate soccer players utilize these movements in their training! This makes us wonder if Bonds really uses this routine.

The Bonds nutrition regimen is where things get interesting, sketchy, hazy, perplexing, etc…first we’ll make a few points about his supplements. I’ve included links to the details about each supplement. The key sections to read on the links are the “Indications and Usage” and the “Research Summary.”

Overall the items on his supplement list are pretty standard bodybuilding nonsense…stuff that’s marketed to the hilt regardless of the level of substantiation. For example colostrum, which is generated by a mother’s mammary glands right after giving birth and is rich with anti-bodies beneficial to newborns, has been hyped as a fat builder, muscle builder, injury healer, mood improver, depression fighter and cancer fighter. Sounds good, except for the fact that there’s no credible evidence to support any of these claims.

The use of glutamine peptides in this regimen is an example of how supplement companies market substances based on positive scientific evidence obtained in the study of individuals who are “metabolically compromised,” and applying the results to those who are not.

Basically an anti-catabolic amino acid, studies have shown than glutamine helps in the recovery of trauma, surgery and other critical patients. Yet there is no credible evidence that orally administered glutamine has any benefit for those who are not “metabolically compromised.”

Chromium, in any form, has been shown in studies completed this year to provide no benefits whatsoever.

The most puzzling items on this list are the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. Claims made in favor of these substances are mostly from an anti-depressant standpoint, and there’s no evidence that they are very effective. One study concludes that tyrosine may provide some protection against mood and performance impairment when encountering some forms of environmental stress such as cold and hypoxia. However more studies need to be performed on this. Phenylalanine has been shown to be somewhat effective in the treatment of vitiligo.

Our guess is that Bonds takes tyrosine because his camp believes in the purported stress protection offered. We can’t imagine why Bonds takes the phenylalanine. If he needs something for depression he should take a real prescription drug. By the way, phenylalanine is the main ingredient of aspartame, an excess of which has been shown in some studies to actually cause depression!

Where things get a little sketchier, is with this Victor Conte the head of Balco Labs. In the article he’s described as a nutritional consultant. In a search of the web we came across Balco’s website and some interviews of Conte where he describes his philosophy and the theory of measuring the nutrient levels in the blood of athletes. Despite all of this very technical/medical sounding info, there is no indication of what Conte actually is. In one item Conte is referred to as an inventor and scientist, yet there isn’t a mention detailing his background.

The other thing that raises a red flag, is that even though he is involved with some legit athletes, he also works with professional bodybuilders, and was involved with C.J. Hunter, the banned shot-putting ex-husband of Marion Jones.
If you read this article, the guy mentioned sporting the pencil moustache is Conte.,1329,2826226_182185,00.html
This item provides more details about the Hunter situation and Conte’s role using the standard “Doper’s Defense.”

The Balco website is surprisingly cheesy and uses a lot of purposely confusing medical jargon to describe why their method of measuring the nutrient level can be important for weekend warrior and elite athletes alike. Our feeling is that this nutrient level analysis is just a bunch of pseudo-science garbage. Like the research used to “prove” that a supplement is effective, this nutrient level analysis is just a marketing hustle that now boasts legitimacy in the form of Barry Bonds. All in all we wonder how a guy like Conte gets access to a superstar athlete. You can draw your won conclusion.

To close with an analogy, to claim that this regimen is responsible for Bonds’ success is like saying a modern day newspaper is produced and printed around the world using only typewriters and printing presses.