November 29, 2007
By Robert Weiner
If Barry Bonds were subject to the rules of track and field—America’s premier Olympic sport, holding its national convention in Honolulu this week – his home run records would be “going, going, gone,” as famed announcer Mel Allen used to say as the ball sailed out. There would be no asterisk--Bonds’ record would be annulled. Henry Aaron would be given back his hard-fought 1974 record of 755—and that’s just what baseball should do.
For the track meeting participants – national, state and local association chairs, meet organizers, officials, coaches, and athletes young and old, no decision or action will have more impact than maintaining a strong anti-drug policy for our nation’s youth, especially approaching the Beijing Olympics.
Bonds has increased his hat, shoe, and chest sizes by 25% over the last ten years, from ages 33-43, not exactly a young boy’s growing period. Time Magazine reported Bonds’ swelling up as “a telltale sign of human growth hormone.” For him to say he didn’t “knowingly” take drugs defies what everyone knows that human growth hormone and steroids do.
After a positive test result, Bonds admitted publicly (Associated Press and ESPN reported January 10 and 11 this year) taking amphetamines but predictably claimed he didn’t know what it was when he got it from a teammate. Baseball did not penalize him. Baseball players and coaches downplay amphetamine pills as unimportant “greenies” despite the aggressive, criminal, and suicidal tendencies they engender when not medically monitored.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that one million students say they have taken steroids. After Mark McGuire tested positive for Androstenedione or “Andro” (now labeled a steroid), sales of the drug quadrupled, confirming a Kaiser Foundation finding that three-quarters of kids say they look up to and want to emulate professional athletes.
Before children start taking steroids and HGH, they need to be aware of the real harm and dangerous side effects – from liver and heart disease to cancer to shrunken body parts, hair in wrong places, suicide (congressional hearings interviewed many sad parents) and – ask the family of wrestler Chris Benoit – paranoid, schizophrenic, murderous rages. Thousands of East German swimmers are now suing the current government for illnesses from forced steroid drugging.
USA Track and Field, led by CEO Craig Masback and National Chairman Bill Roe, has the gold standard for drug testing and enforcement in the U.S. and around the world. The punishment of at least a two-year ban from competition and results annulment hurts, and it’s given regardless if the illegal users are stars like Olympic quintuple-medalist Marian Jones or 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery. Also only in track and field, the entire entourage-- coaches, doctors, trainers, assistants – are equally subject to being banned. USA Track and Field has a “zero tolerance” policy for any performance enhancing drug and the most rigorous testing program in sport.
Baseball, on the other hand, has a “zero action” policy: do nothing unless boxed into a corner. They do not record tests for amphetamines, secretly announce to teams at least a day before when “unannounced” steroid testers are coming (allowing players to disappear or use drug masking agents), and do not seek information about HGH. The Mitchell investigation underway will provide generalities but no real action – and no unknown names will be named according to the ground rules. The NFL, Hockey, Basketball and Soccer (international “Football”) are not much better—the objective of all professional sports seems to hide rather than block and punish drug abuse.
In helping to create the new World and U.S. Anti-Doping Agencies, the former Drug Czar, Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey, urged “open, accountable” drug policies that the world can see, hear, and know. McCaffrey, outgoing WADA Chair Dick Pound, and former USADA Chair/Olympic Marathon champion Frank Shorter – the triumvirate who launched the struggle against sports drug abuse -- forcefully asserted that the era of hiding our embarrassments must be over. Youth must see and hear the point of drug-free athletic.
It’s been a bad year for high profile sports drug busts—not just Jones and Bonds but Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen and ex-Wimbledon tennis champion Martina Hingis among many others – but a good year for letting the world know that drugs in sport is unacceptable. Every bust is a message to kids: do not cheat.
It’s appalling for Bonds to assert, “This record is in no way tainted.” It’s time for baseball to delete the asterisk from Barry Bonds’ records and do what USA Track and Field and the Olympics would do—remove his records altogether. It’s time for other sports, sponsors, and the media to step up and help. Because of the powerful symbolism of the baseball home run record—like no other--it’s the best way baseball can restore its integrity, and join track and field in sending a loud and clear message for drug-free sport to youth and the nation.
Weiner was spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office 1995-2001 and directed White House drug policy media at the Sydney Olympics and WADA media at the Salt Lake Olympics. He is a masters track runner and delegate to the USATF Convention at the Sheraton Honolulu Nov. 28-Dec. 2.