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Steroid use rampant even in baseball, it seems...


Well-Known TRIBEr

If Grand Jury Exposes Players, Union May Squash Drug Testing Program

Published: February 13, 2004

EW people in or out of baseball would be shocked if some of its better players suddenly threw themselves on the mercy of the court of public opinion and admitted to having used illegal steroids or some derivative thereof.

In November, Major League Baseball disclosed that 5 percent to 7 percent of its players tested positive for steroid use. Some people were outraged, screaming that the results demonstrated just how rampant steroid use had become in baseball. Others, particularly people in baseball, believed otherwise. Given the population of the game, about 1,200 players, 75 or so users didn't seem to represent a large number.

Steroids do not necessarily improve the contact that good hitters make with the baseball, but once they make contact, users may propel the ball harder and faster through the infield, into the outfield gaps and over the fences.

In the first 15 years of his major league career, Barry Bonds did not hit more than 49 home runs in a season. Then, in 2001, in his 16th season, at age 37, Bonds shattered a major league record by slugging a remarkable total of 73 home runs.

In his first nine seasons, Sammy Sosa didn't hit more than 40 home runs. In three of his next four, he hit more than 60.

Coincidence? Natural development? Weight training? A result of speeding up their swing? Bat speed, after all, generates power. Who but the players and their closest cohorts (i.e., trainers, "nutritional experts") know for sure?

Now comes a grand jury in San Francisco that yesterday handed up indictments against four men, including Bonds's personal trainer. Neither Bonds nor any other athlete was named in the 42-count federal indictment, which includes charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids, possession of human growth hormone, misbranding drugs with intent to defraud and money laundering.

Government officials are treating the case as a cause célèbre. The news conference announcing the indictments, held at the Justice Department in Washington, was no routine event. It featured John Ashcroft, the United States attorney general, and other high-ranking government officials.

But the grand jury is not stopping with its indictments. It feels it has a right to know which baseball players tested positive last year. The grand jury, which has been probing a nutritional supplement company near San Francisco, has subpoenaed records of the two companies that conducted the tests for M.L.B.

Never mind that the players agreed to the testing program as part of the 2002 labor negotiations, with the critical provision being that the results would remain confidential and that players would not be identified in the first year of the testing. The grand jury has seemingly ignored that provision and seems prepared to ride roughshod over the collective bargaining and privacy rights of the players. The subpoena, said a lawyer familiar with it, also seeks records of after-care programs for players who have tested positive for use of other drugs.

But the grand jury may not get the records. The players association, which reluctantly agreed to the testing program, and Major League Baseball are engaged in discussions with the United States attorney's office in San Francisco in an effort to have the subpoena quashed, according to lawyers familiar with the effort.

If talking does not work, a court action will surely follow.

"Certainly, one of the tenets of the collective bargaining agreement was that this testing would be anonymous and confidential," Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said yesterday without discussing continuing talks or any future lawsuit. "As an institution, we try to stand by the agreements we make."

Union lawyers did not return calls seeking comment. Manfred may wind up with a larger problem than the grand jury's desire to fish for steroid information. Having attained a start to steroid testing, Manfred and other M.L.B. officials look forward to expanding the testing program in the next round of collective bargaining before the 2007 season.

Their aim, Manfred said, is "zero tolerance." Despite outside criticism of the current testing program as being weak, baseball management feels good — and should feel good considering the strength and stance of the union — with its initial step.

But if the grand jury gets last year's test results, management has a stone wall to look forward to in 2006, when it negotiates the next labor agreement. Union lawyers might not have been talking about it yesterday, but if there's a sure thing here, it's that the union would never again agree to any kind of testing program if last year's results lose their confidentiality.

• The union, arguing the right to privacy, long opposed testing of any kind for any kind of drugs. It conceded on steroids in the current labor agreement because enough of its members were concerned with developments that created an unlevel playing field between users and nonusers and a collective taint on all players.

If the indicted defendants are brought to trial, some of the athletes who testified before the grand jury would almost certainly be called to testify in open court.

Similar appearances occurred in the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, when Dave Parker, Dale Berra, Keith Hernandez, John Milner, Lonnie Smith and Enos Cabell were among those who were summoned to testify.

Berra and Parker testified that they secured amphetamines from Willie Stargell; Parker said he also got them from Bill Madlock. Milner identified Willie Mays as a source of liquid amphetamines when they played for the Mets.

Those were not proud moments for baseball. Bonds on the witness stand testifying about steroids and his personal trainer would not be a glamorous moment, either. But such moments might be dwarfed by a collapse of the drug-testing agreement in future years if the grand jury gets those test results.


Well-Known TRIBEr

February 13, 2004
With Indictments Swirling, Baseball Becomes Big Loser

HE scandal is in the clubhouse now, like dirty uniforms the ballplayers drop at their feet. Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds's personal trainer, who had the freedom of the San Francisco locker room, has been indicted along with three other men on 42 charges involving anabolic steroids and financial abuses.

After some of his milestone home runs, Bonds publicly praised Anderson for telling him to eat his broccoli or increase his zinc intake. Now the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, has linked Anderson to the chain of body-building abusers in baseball and other sports.

Baseball looked the other way too long, even when sluggers with recently enlarged physiques like Bonds of the Giants and Jason Giambi of the Yankees were pampered by allowing their trainers in the team clubhouse. Bonds and Giambi were among the athletes who appeared before the grand jury that brought yesterday's indictments, and both were customers of a suspicious laboratory near San Francisco.

Baseball was divided in a labor-management impasse while muscles bulged extravagantly and home runs flew over the fences. This newfound power was a great way to sell tickets and get on the 11 o'clock sports highlights, so baseball looked the other way.

Now the government has alleged fiscal irregularities and distribution of illegal muscle-building drugs by four men — Victor Conte Jr., the head of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or Balco; James J. Valente, the Balco vice president; Remi Korchemny, a prominent track coach; and Anderson, Bonds's childhood friend and for the last five years his personal trainer.

The supply chain may have branched out into other sports, including track and field and professional football, but baseball, the industry that could not regulate itself, is the biggest loser in this indictment.

By finding reason to indict Anderson, the Justice Department is putting a huge cloud over Bonds's record of 73 home runs in 2001. The previous record of 70 was set in 1998 by Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, who acknowledged using a body-building supplement, androstenedione, that was illegal in many sports but not in baseball.

Baseball used to hope it would all go away, that sentimental and sappy fans (and news media members) would get caught up in a new pennant race and leave the dreary subject of drugs to the Olympics and other periodic phenomena. But now the spotlight is on baseball.

President Bush, a knowledgeable sports fan and once the head of the Texas Rangers, spoke out against performance-enhancing drugs during his State of the Union address. The Justice Department has moved against people who allegedly supplied illegal drugs to prominent athletes.

"They're moving up the chain, away from the athletes," said Richard Pound of Canada, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a frequent critic of baseball's policies toward drugs. Now, Pound said, the United States government is saying, "If you sell it, they'll go after you."

Pound said, "This is a pretty strong message."

He added, "I don't think they've got the Queen Mary turned around, but even a few degrees is important."

The indictments suggest that athletes may not be charged unless testimony in some future trial implicates them.

The balance of sports changed last year when an unidentified track official turned in a vial of THG, a new body-building substance that had not previously been detected by drug laboratories.

Testers will be looking for THG in the Summer Games in Athens in August. And baseball's new but rudimentary drug-testing program will go into force this season because more than 5 percent of players failed random tests last season.

"That is more than the entire Mets and Yankees rosters put together," said Dr. Gary I. Wadler of Manhasset, N.Y., an adviser to the World Anti-Doping Agency, who added, "This is our Ben Johnson moment."

This was a reference to the Canadian sprinter who forfeited his gold medal after testing positive during the 1988 Summer Games, forcing Canada to upgrade its vigilance. Now the United States has a national drug scandal in its athletic supply system.

"These athletes are not off the hook; they will be outed by testing," said Robert Weiner, who worked for six years with Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the so-called drug czar during the Clinton administration.

The widest danger is to teenagers who try to emulate the huge muscles of professional athletes. They are overlooking the permanent damage done to generations of Soviet-bloc athletes who were urged to take powerful body-building substances.

In the Communist system, drugs were distributed by the state. In the so-called free world, body-building substances are part of the free-enterprise chain.

There are good reasons these substances are illegal. One is because they deny an equal chance to all athletes. Another is because many of them are dangerous.

Baseball sluggers and track athletes and swimmers may think they are beating the system. They are cheating — and possibly ruining their bodies. Now the government is going after potential cheating. The trail goes right into major league clubhouses.


Well-Known TRIBEr

February 13, 2004
4 Indicted in a Steroid Scheme That Involved Top Pro Athletes

arry Bonds's personal trainer, a prominent track coach and two executives of a nutritional supplements laboratory were charged yesterday with illegally distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of professional athletes in football, baseball and track and field.

The indictments were the first to result from an investigation that began in August 2002 when federal agents began looking into the activities at the supplements laboratory, known as the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or Balco.

The allegation that the illicit drugs were sold to dozens of athletes seemed to indicate that their use was more widespread than has previously been reported. Nine athletes have been identified in news reports as failing tests for the steroid known as THG, which has been linked to Balco. More than a dozen athletes testified before the grand jury investigating the company.

The four men indicted yesterday were accused of conspiracy to distribute steroids, possession of human growth hormone and money laundering, according to the 42-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in San Francisco and announced in Washington by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Anabolic steroids are a controlled substance, and under federal law it is illegal to distribute them without a prescription.

The charges were filed against Victor Conte Jr., 53, who founded Balco and is its chief executive officer; James J. Valente, 49, the vice president of Balco; Greg Anderson, 37, Bonds's trainer, and Remi Korchemny, 71, who coaches the sprinters Kelli White of the United States and Dwaine Chambers of Britain. Ms. White tested positive for the banned stimulant modafinil after winning two gold medals at the world championships in August. Mr. Chambers tested positive for THG in October.

An affidavit that accompanied the indictment alleged a concerted effort by the men and the athletes to conceal the use of the illegal drugs. The scheme allegedly included the use of code names to disguise the kinds of performance-enhancing drugs being distributed, fictitious names on labels used for mailing the steroids, e-mail messages that warned against being caught and bogus explanations for athletes if they were caught. One substance called "the cream" included a steroid and a masking agent; another, called "the clear," was THG, the indictment said.

The indictments follow recent complaints by international anti-doping officials that American professional sports leagues and the United States Olympic Committee had failed to respond aggressively to the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs by American athletes.

The issue was also raised by President Bush in his State of the Union address last month when he called on professional athletes, coaches and team owners to rid sports of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Mr. Ashcroft, in his news conference at the Justice Department, said: "Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them, but also the integrity of the sports that those athletes play. Steroids are bad for sports, they're bad for players, they're bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models."

The existence of a federal investigation into Balco became public last September, after federal and county agents raided the company's offices in Burlingame, Calif. A few weeks later, officials of the American anti-doping agency said that an unidentified track coach had given them a syringe containing a drug that the officials said was tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, a previously unidentified steroid that had been designed to avoid detection.

Mr. Conte has denied being the source of the THG and his lawyer, Troy Ellerman, told Reuters yesterday that he would fight the charges.

Athletes like Mr. Bonds, Jason Giambi of the Yankees, the track star Marion Jones and the boxer Shane Mosley appeared before the grand jury.

Mr. Bonds, a San Francisco Giants outfielder who has been named most valuable player of the National League a record six times, has acknowledged being a client of Balco since before the 2001 season, during which he hit a record 73 homers.

Mr. Bonds weighed 186 pounds as a rookie in 1986, and weighs 228 pounds now. He has attributed his weight gain to nutrition, weight-lifting and the use of legal supplements. He has steadfastly denied using steroids.

The drug is used medically for men who make too little testosterone and for hospitalized patients losing muscle mass or bone. Its ability to build muscle mass makes it attractive to hard-training athletes looking to enhance their performance.

Some steroids convert food into tissue, particularly muscle, and such anabolic steroids can damage kidneys, harden arteries and increase blood pressure. Some kinds can be metabolized into estrogen, causing feminizing effects, and overdoses can shut down a man's own testosterone, causing infertility or impotence.

"The tragedy of so-called performance-enhancing drugs is that they foster the lie that excellence can be bought rather than earned and that physical potential is an asset to be exploited rather than a gift to be nurtured," Mr. Ashcroft said.

He stressed that the investigation is continuing.

"We don't want to signal in any way that we are closing the book on this," Mr. Ashcroft said, adding that more indictments are possible.

The 52-page affidavit, which was written by an Internal Revenue Service agent, accused Mr. Conte, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Valente and Mr. Korchemny of distributing a number of federally controlled substances, including steroids and human growth hormone, "to numerous elite professional athletes at a local, national and international level."

The I.R.S. agent, Jeff Novitzky, said that Mr. Conte laundered the proceeds of the illicit sales through his personal bank account. Mr. Novitzky cited dozens of personal checks from unnamed athletes that had been deposited into Mr. Conte's personal account between February 2000 and May 2003.

One check, for $6,200, was "from the account of a current N.F.L. player," Mr. Novitzky said in his affidavit. Another, for $7,350, was "from the bank account of an elite track and field athlete and Olympic gold medal winner," he wrote.

Mr. Novitzky also said he had examined the trash discarded outside Balco's offices about once a week over many months. Among other things, he said he had found an empty box of vials of Serostin, a human growth hormone; an empty box of testosterone, an anabolic steroid; an empty pill container for Oxandrin, an anabolic steroid; an empty box of Epogen, a prescription version of erythropoietin, or EPO, which is used by some athletes to increase endurance; and dozens of syringe wrappers.

Mr. Novitzky said that medical waste from Balco had been tested and that several discarded syringes contained steroids.

He also said in the affidavit that he had found letters in the trash "from an elite track and field athlete, who is currently the United States champion in his event."

He said the letter read: "Vic, here is a check for the next cycl. I need it by the end of the week." The misspelled word "cycl" refers to cycle, which is a common phrase used to describe the taking of steroids on an on-and-off basis, according to the affidavit.

In addition, Mr. Novitzky provided examples of a half-dozen e-mail messages that were among hundreds that he said had been obtained through federal search warrants of e-mail accounts belonging to Mr. Conte and other defendants.

The e-mail messages "show Victor Conte communicating with professional athletes and coaches about steroids, defeating steroid testing, attempts to keep these activities covert and concealing financial transactions," Mr. Novitzky wrote in the affidavit.

One e-mail message that was said to be written by Mr. Conte and sent to someone identified only as an elite track and field athlete warned the athlete not to use both "cream" and testosterone gel, saying the combination would cause a positive test result. "Whoever told you that it is ok is a complete idiot," said the e-mail message, which later warned, "Please understand that too much is just as bad as not enough. You are ready to rumble. It is time to run in the 49's."

The affidavit also said that among the retrieved garbage were two personal notes from an elite track and field athlete and world record holder. One dated March 24, 2003, read: "Victor, Thank you for the help at nationals!" The other, with the same date, said: "Victor . . . Jim . . . Just wanted to let you know I appreciate everything that you did. All that I have accomplished this season would not have been possible without your support. Thanks!!"

In another e-mail message to a coach, Mr. Conte noted that "L=liquid, C=cream." The e-mail message said: "L and C is what I gave you for your triple jumper. S is what they take before competition readily available in Greece. And remember that all e-mails are saved for a very long time, so be careful about how you say what you say. Searches for keywords like `anabolic' and many others are going at all times by big brother."

The affidavit noted that anabolic steroids come in liquid and cream forms.

The grand jury has subpoenaed baseball's drug-testing results from last year, but Major League Baseball and the Players Association are in discussions with the United States Attorney's office to quash the subpoena. If the talks fail to keep the confidentiality of the results, baseball will probably go to court to try to bar the grand jury from having access to the information.

But three lawyers said it is unlikely that baseball will be able to prevent the grand jury from securing those anonymous test results.

"They'll get the stuff," said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University who is a former deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. "This kind of testing is not doctor-patient protected."

John Files in Washington contributed reporting for this article.


TRIBE Member
Pro wrestling is lucky because it's laughed at for not being a "real" sport.

Otherwise an investigation of the likes that MLB did would show that 80-90% of its participants are on the juice.