February 25, 2009

Sports Illustrated Exposed Rampant Drug Use In All Sports 40 Years Ago


Two excellent articles on drug use in sports were written by Bil Gilbert and published in Sports Illustrated in June 1969.

John Perricone highlighted them recently (here and here) at his blog Only Baseball Matters. Both of these articles are must-reads of the highest order -- they decimate the laughable Renaultian response of so many sportswriters to the idea of drugs only recently contaminating sports. (And like Perricone, I found it difficult to resist the temptation to quote more of these articles than I did.)

From Problems In A Turned-on World (June 23, 1969):
Among the less startling assertions one could make today would be that we live in a drug culture. The vast majority of us gobble an aspirin here, gulp an antibiotic there, whiff a decongestant now or a few milligrams of nicotine then. We take a little opiate in our cough syrup, a jab of Novocain from the dentist, caffeine to start the day, alcohol to mellow it and a sedative to blank it out at bedtime. However, after it has been admitted that most citizens dope themselves from time to time, there remain excellent grounds for claiming that in the matter of drug usage, athletes are different from the rest of us. In spite of being -- for the most part -- young, healthy and active specimens, they take an extraordinary variety and quantity of drugs (see cover). They take them for dubious purposes, they take them in a situation of debatable morality, they take them under conditions that range from dangerously experimental to hazardous to fatal. The use of drugs -- legal drugs -- by athletes is far from new, but the increase in drug usage in the last 10 years is startling. It could, indeed, menace the tradition and structure of sport itself.

To begin, consider some examples of the role drugs have come to play in sport:

"A few pills -- I take all kinds -- and the pain's gone," says Dennis McLain of the Detroit Tigers. McLain also takes shots, or at least took a shot of cortisone and Xylocaine (anti-inflammant and painkiller) in his throwing shoulder prior to the sixth game of the 1968 World Series -- the only game he won in three tries. In the same Series, which at times seemed to be a matchup between Detroit and St. Louis druggists, Cardinal Bob Gibson was gobbling muscle-relaxing pills, trying chemically to keep his arm loose. The Tigers' Series hero, Mickey Lolich, was on antibiotics.

"We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines].... We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal.... We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium.... But I don't think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts," said Dr. I. C. Middleman, who, until his death last September, was team surgeon for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals. ...

There are abundant rumors -- the wildest of which circulate within rather than outside the sporting world -- about strung-out quarterbacks, hopped-up pitchers, slowed-down middleweights, convulsed half-milers and doped-to-death wrestlers. Nevertheless, it is the question of motive and morality that constitutes the crux of the athletic drug problem. Even if none of the gossip could be reduced to provable fact, there remains ample evidence that drug use constitutes a significant dilemma, not so much for individual athletes as for sport in general. One reason is that the use of drugs in sport leads one directly to more serious and complicated questions. Is athletic integrity (and, conversely, corruption) a matter of public interest? Does it matter, as appreciators of sport have so long and piously claimed it does, that games be played in an atmosphere of virtue; even righteousness? If not, what is the social utility of games -- why play them at all? Drug usage, even more than speculation about bribery, college recruiting, spit-balls or TV commercials, raises such sticky questions about the fundamentals of sport that one can understand the instinctive reaction of the athletic Establishments: when it comes to drugs, they ignore, dismiss, deny. ...
(In case you are wondering, "I.C. Middleman" -- though it would make a perfect pseudonym -- is the man's actual name.)

Gilbert quotes Dr. H. Kay Dooley, then the director of the Wood Memorial Clinic in Pomona, California, as "well known among athletes as one of the few physicians who openly endorse use of anabolic steroids":
A lot of physicians are stuffed shirts when it comes to sports. Athletes do want to perform better, that is what it is all about. If I know of something which may improve performance, a training or rehabilitation technique, a drug that is legal and which I don't believe involves any serious health risk, I see no reason not to make it available to an athlete. I can't see any ethical difference between giving a drug to improve performance and wrapping an ankle or handing out a salt pill for the same purpose. Athletes hear about these things and they are going to get them one way or another.
More SI:
It would be surprising if athletes were not influenced by the same trends and tendencies that have the rest of us so high on drugs. A Pepper Martin, if plunked in the ribs by a Schoolboy Rowe fastball in 1934, would have trotted down to first base without doing anything about his injury because 1) there was nothing he or anyone else knew to do about it, and 2) he would have thought it a little sissified to have taken medicine for a bruise. In 1969 when a hitter catches one in the side, the game is likely to be stopped while he is sprayed with ethyl chloride to freeze the area, takes an enzyme or (if his medical attendant has come by some on the black market) has some DMSO slathered on the bruise. If he is a particularly sensitive jock he might even take a sedative or a painkilling pill. All this is done, and even demanded, because such aids are available and the consensus is that it is the smart, scientific, modern thing to use them. ...

"I obviously don't care to be quoted," says a New York physician close to the sporting scene. "However, as a generality, team physicians tend to be men of action, not scholarly, speculative types. They are interested in immediate problems: making somebody strong, relaxed, mean or quick and in getting a player back in the game as soon as possible. If somebody tells them there is a drug that might do the trick, they are apt to try it They are not likely to wait around for a double-blind control study to find out if the drug is effective or what it will do to the liver three years later They are interested in today."
The following week, SI published Something Extra On The Ball (June 30, 1969):
The relationship between pain and sports is ancient and close. For some, pain is the prohibitive price that makes games not worth playing; for others it is the secret but ultimate opponent. For most it is a necessary vocational byproduct. Though the image of the athlete as a virile, courageous, uncomplaining pain bearer has been assiduously promoted and popularly accepted, athletes in general fret, worry and complain more about pain than nonathletes. There are several good reasons for this. Games are physical, sometimes violent, and the chances of getting a broken bone, bruise or cut are clearly greater in sports than in less active pastimes. Also, athletes tend to be more dedicated body watchers than most. "They are not exactly hypochondriacs. They are just exceptionally cautious about their bodies," says Dr. Thomas Silva of the Boston Celtics. The normal athlete will immediately note and be concerned about small throbs, aches and twinges that a nonathlete accepts stoically as just part of being alive. Because he is concerned with physical performance, a very little pain can distract an athlete to a significant degree. An accountant with a sore toe is likely to accept the infirmity silently. The same ailment in a baseball pitcher often will be headline news. The player, in turn, will act as if he were threatened by advanced gangrene, and he can hardly be blamed, since his livelihood may be involved in his sore toe. ...

Steroids are a group of complex compounds naturally produced by many plants and animals. The steroids are hormones, and among these are the androgens, male hormones produced by the testes and the cortex of the adrenal glands. Anabolic steroids used by both male and female athletes are derived from male hormones. (Among the most commonly used are Dianabol, Durabolin and Deca-Durabolin, Maxibolin, Anavar, Nilevar and Winstrol.) The androgens have many effects on the body. ... A second major effect of the androgens is anabolic, i.e., body building. They improve the assimilation of protein and thus promote increased weight and muscle mass. ...

"What I wish," says [Dave] Maggard [a shotputter on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team], "is that some reputable scientific group would really study certain drugs and tell us yes or no as to whether they are effective, and yes or no as to whether they are dangerous. Then I'd like to see the NCAA, the AAU, the U.S. Olympic Committee and all the conferences go ahead and put us straight -- tell all of us to either use the drugs, or don't. I think if most drugs were banned -- things like amphetamines, barbiturates, anabolic steroids -- most athletes would stop using them. It's this halfway stuff, the rumors, the idea maybe you have to use them to be competitive that has made it such a mess." ...

"Someday," says Dr. [Allan J.] Ryan [of the University of Wisconsin], "somebody will find a drug that measurably improves performance, is expensive, and is not available to everyone or known by everyone. That is the day when we are all going to have to stand up and be counted on what is right and wrong -- we will have to decide then what sport is all about."

Unlike the conservative Dr. Ryan, a good many athletes, coaches, trainers and physicians believe that we already have found the alchemist's stone; it is anabolic steroids, amphetamines, strychnine, iboyaine, muscle relaxers, B-12, cortisone, etc., etc., etc. Whether it is true or not, the belief and the practices that follow the belief are enough to suggest, as they have to Dave Maggard, that the stand-up-and-be-counted time has already arrived for the athletic Establishment.
As Perricone notes, all of this information -- and thousands of words more -- were published in "THE preeminent publication on sports in America" forty years ago. (Indeed, at the time of publication, man had not yet walked on the moon.) And Gilbert is writing about a trend that he saw as beginning in the late 1950s.

So, Perricone writes,
[h]ow do these [current] sportswriters expect me to believe that they haven't known what's been going on in the world of elite athletic competition over these last four decades? How can they ask me to be outraged when most of them have watched this problem develop, and waited over three decades to start sounding the alarm? ...
Perricone also points out that Bud "I Don't Know Nuthin' 'Bout No Steroids" Selig has been intimately involved in baseball for every single one of those forty years. As far as his own attitude on steroids, Perricone writes:
I'm not saying it's OK, but I'm also not saying it's not. I'm saying it's none of my business. ... We all want to be better, and we all will do most anything to achieve that end. There's nothing new about that. ... We live in a culture that has embraced the pharmacological fix. That our athletes do shouldn't be thought of as wrong; it should be expected.
In a comment to this post, he goes into more detail (which is quite close to my own opinions):
I'm suggesting that the very idea of "cheating" needs to be re-examined. When I consider all of the types of things a player or a team might do to win ... it occurs to me that there's no sense to the notion that using artificial means to improving your strength, stamina and conditioning is THE cheating. ...

The list of things players do -– and have done -– to improve their performance borders on the absurd, and again, for whatever reasons you or anyone want to use, steroids has become THE scourge.

I'd ask you to consider why? Because they're illegal? Horseshit. Amphetamine use has been illegal for most of my adult life, and baseball teams used to keep them in jelly bean jars in the clubhouse. Why wasn't Roy Oswalt up in arms about that? Addiction to speed, which almost always includes an addiction to downers as well, ranks as one of the most debilitating and difficult to overcome. Meth is considered THE community killer, one of the worst drugs out there. Where is the outrage over all of the records that were set in the 60's and the 70's by players who would not have been able to take the field without it?

I'm asking you, asking all of my readers, to consider things differently. Instead of thinking about who was cheating, ask yourself why steroids has become THE issue? ... Curt Schilling helped the Red Sox win a championship in 2004 by using massive amounts of painkillers, almost ending his career, and he was lauded as a hero. Why is that?

Ask yourself who has decided what's OK and what's not.
Perricone's noting the lack of outrage "over all of the records that were set in the 60's and the 70's" by drugged-up players (I don't recall former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver ever mentioning that Bob Gibson was "gobbling" pills to help him pitch three complete games during the 1968 World Series) reminds me of a phenomenon I find both utterly annoying and fascinating: the evolving indifferent over events that took place "x" number of years ago. The Americans who shrug their shoulders and say "Well, of course, there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK" are the very same people who vehemently deny (and ridicule those who believe in) the existence of any government conspiracies in the present day. Indeed, those same people, thirty years from now, will shrug their shoulders and nod at the mention of shady things from 1995-2004 (to pick a random decade), but will call anyone who suggests government malfeasance in 2039 a kook.

Perricone also points to the sports media's staggering and willful ignorance of history (and their assumption that we, the readers and viewers, have no knowledge of that history):
I'll say it again, if the BBWAA continues to hold these players [Rose, Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Palmeiro, et al.] hostage, if the list of players that they decide to exclude from the Hall of Fame continues to grow, then it won't be a Hall of Fame anymore. It'll be a place where baseball writers can celebrate their righteousness and hypocrisy. ...

Only when steroids became the PED of choice, and the records started to fall did the writers get themselves all up in arms. Why is that? Why did decades of uppers and downers mean nothing to the writers, but steroids and HGH meant everything? Lack of understanding, fear, and more importantly, nostalgia. ...

These writers are defending their childhood memories, and poorly at that. ... Never mind that some of their heroes were drunk on the field, or abused speed, or used cocaine during games. Never mind that many of the records they were seeing fall were destined to fall for reasons far more obvious than the simple choice of strength training enhancers.

Their youth was being debased, and for that, these "cheaters" must pay. Remember this when you read Tom Verducci, or Mike Lupica, and remember that these self-proclaimed experts have forgotten baseball history, if they ever knew it at all.

10 comments:

L-girl said...

Thanks to you and John Perricone for this work. Great stuff.

Benjamin said...

Bud Selig ought to take Perricone in, but he's more likely to swallow some simethicone and hope the whole issue passes like unwanted gas.

Jere said...

Beckett strikes out CHB's kid! Nice! Sox didn't score in top of first. Rocco got struck out by a college kid. 0-0, after 1 and a half. Our only offense in the first was a Lugo walk. Let's get those bats going, we NEED this game!

Jere said...

Nick Green, first hit of season for Sox. A double. 0-0 after 2.

Jere said...

OTT.

Double-H in for inning 3, gets two grounders and a K.

Jere said...

Globe "live blog" not letting my comments through over there. So now I'm just givin' 'em my thoughts on Tony Mazz and stuff. (It also didn't work when I called myself "Not Jere." They're quick over there:))

Jere said...

BC getting to Kris Johnson. 1-0 Eagles after 3.5. And the Globe let one of my comments through!

redsock said...

Do you usually reject your comments? Have you been banned?

...

I'm going to start a new post about the games today, so let's move over there.

Jere said...

We're through 4 innings of a 7-inning game, and BC leads 1-0.

FenFan said...

Wow - GREAT post, Redsock! This is why I come back here again and again.