by Ryan Meehan
Before you break into my apartment and throw me into a wood chipper for doing so, yes this a column about running. While I usually try to keep the number of pieces that I do about running to a very minute amount (it usually floats somewhere right around zero) I would like to address this topic because I think there might be a parallel that can be drawn to other sports.
On Monday, it was reported that American sprinter Tyson Gay and his Jamaican counterpart Asafa Powell were two of the many runners within their sport to test positive for illicit substances. Although hardly stunning, it comes at a very bad time for the sport as the World Championships are being held in Moscow just a month away.
Running to me is proof of my theory that in some sports, fans don’t really care if athletes are on steroids. Along with cycling, it just goes to show that the less popular a sport is the less likely those who cover sports are going to publicly complain about it. It also reinforces my theory that most athletes (if not all of them) who participate in sports where a hundredth of a second can be the difference between immortality and no one ever remembering your name are probably on something that they shouldn’t be on.
When you hear the talk of steroids in other sports, the media is always very brutal when it comes to accusing an athlete of doping. In their defense, most of the time they’re right. Look at how everyone stuck by the belief that Lance Armstrong was a user – eventually, they were right. But one of the media’s beliefs I think needs to be taken to task and that’s exactly what Sports Blog Movement is for.
You hear it all of the time. An athlete vehemently denies using performance enhancing drugs. Then a year later (typically during a slow news day) a report comes out that the athlete in question tested positive for PEDs or some other anabolic steroid. For the next 24 to 48 hours, ESPN and the related local networks that have been cloned to look like that network speculate as to what may have happened and they usually do it with mind blowing inaccuracy. But eventually their investigative reporters (usually played by some pencil-dicked smirking fuckhole like Jeremy Schapp or Tim Kurkjian that holds the microphone like it’s a dildo with a prize will come out after it’s shaken for ten minutes) do finally get to the athlete, and when they do sometimes they say things like “I have never knowingly taken any sort of performance enhancing drugs”. They use the word “knowingly” because if they say that, they will always be closer to the “cheat” side of the Venn Diagram than the “liar” side. Being a cheat is one thing, but being a liar in our culture is much different, and I’m about to tell you why.
Usually right after said athlete explains that he’s never knowingly taken a banned substance, it doesn’t take long for the media in television and radio to play executioner. Their favorite thing to do whenever the athlete uses that key word, is to say the following:
“Everybody knows what they’re putting into their body“
The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to think that this statement might as much of a crock of shit as some of these defenses the athletes use themselves when they get popped for steroids. Let’s break down why this is questionable logic:
1) Athletes are not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer
Hopefully I’m not breaking anybody’s heart by letting you in on this secret: Athletes aren’t all scholars. Most college athletes in major cities spend more time getting rimjobs from strippers than they do “focusing on their studies”. I think we all know by now some of these degrees (such as African Studies for example) are simply invented by the school’s athletic directors in order to make it almost impossible to flunk out of. For every Myron Rolle, there are a thousand Albert Haynesworths. The point here is just because a trainer tells an athlete something, that doesn’t mean he’ll understand it. Or remember it, especially when it’s in his best interests to not remember it. I’m sure in a lot of these locker rooms there are a whole lot of things being told to these guys, but their headphones are up so loud the likelihood they heard the trainer is very low.
2) Trainers are relatively unknown and disposable, so the idea that they might be giving athletes banned substances is not that far fetched
Quick: Without looking – who is your favorite trainer? Unless you have an insanely disposable amount of free time, you probably don’t have a favorite trainer. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because the trainers (much like the referees, officials, or umpires) don’t have their names on the back of a jersey that’s for sale at your local Dick’s sporting goods outlet. So what that means is that the target audience for these trainers (in other words, the people they aim to impress and/or please) are the people who are just as “behind the scenes” as they are within the sporting world. (Owners, team employees, GMs, and everyone in between) And I hate to tell you this, but those people are equally aware of all the shady shit that happens inside of the syringes that are in those locker rooms. So what THAT means is that both of those groups of people are rarely questioned about anything like this at all. That’s what the PR team is for.
Now, returning to the needle. Say you’re a trainer that is lucky enough to get a job with a major league baseball team. (I’m using this as an example instead of track and field because it’s more relatable) And say that you have access to some certain type of a cream that allows its applicant to receive a certain testosterone boost. The odds that you can apply that cream, the player you applied it to won’t be tested, he will have a good stretch of hitting, and no one will ever know are very high. (At least they had been until recently) All we see as fans are the player’s average going up, and him hitting more home runs. But what’s really going on is that trainer just increased his ability to work with another better player on a better team. You can’t see it, but that dude’s resume just changed significantly the second he applied that cream to said athlete’s body.
So let me ask you this: If you were a personal trainer for a team that has a player who is just ready to hit the prime of his career, why wouldn’t you do this? The odds are that unless you come from the same factory that produces Tim Tebow’s DNA, you’re injecting that guy with all sorts of shit and not telling him. And the reason that you’re doing it is because there is a very high chance that the “behind the scenes” folk I just told you about will take notice and your name will go to the top of the list when a better job comes out. And as far as putting the player’s reputation on the line, don’t sit here for one second and tell me that they care as much as a they would like you to believe. Want to know why?
When the squeaky clean trainer guy really DOES go out of his way to make sure that no illicit substances get in the body of the star athlete, and then the athlete takes something that he’s really NOT supposed to take, the first thing he does is fire everybody that’s ever worked for him. It’s their own special way of saying “It’s my fault, both of us know it, and I still don’t care” I don’t give a shit who you are, nobody wants to take a bullet for a guy like that. And sure trainers are medicine dorks that always wanted to hang out with the guys on the team, but still that’s a low blow. Every trainer in America has heard that story, and they don’t want to be next unless they KNOW it’s their fault.
3) When these guys are getting hurt and doing rehab stints, they probably DON’T KNOW what’s going in their body
Say that week one of the NFL season Michael Vick drops back to pass. (And let’s also say, for the sake of this exercise, that we’re not going back to the overused dogfighting jokes) The wet paper bag that is the Philadelphia Eagles offensive lines collapses, and he gets absolutely clobbered by some outside linebacker and ends up laying there unconscious for several minutes. Finally he regains his consciousness and he is carefully placed on to a stretcher where he gives an Utleyesque “thumbs up” before he’s put in the ambulance. Got all that? Now, here’s my question for you:
Does Michael Vick really know what just happened to him?
If you answered “Of course he does, don’t be ridiculous…”, you’re either Bronson Pinchot’s character from “Perfect Strangers” or it’s high time that you went and played in traffic. The correct answer is “Hell no…”, and you could put any QB in the league’s name in there and they wouldn’t know either. You just got the shit knocked out of you. For a few moments, you have more than likely forgotten a lot of different things. So if that’s the case, how sharp do your skills get to be when it comes to remembering what they gave you to not die?
Probably not much. Do you remember that one year where the Eagles seemingly had a jillion quarterbacks get hurt in a row, and then they were stuck with fucking Koy Detmer as a QB on a Monday night. The Eagles were winning, but he got rocked. It was an elbow injury and it was so bad they had to cut to commercial. The guy got up and he looked like he’d been eating mushrooms since the day Grace Slick was fired from Jefferson Airplane.
The point here is that in that brief period of time when you are being treated for an extreme injury, I’m sure there are no medications spared. If Joe Flacco is going to get an eighth of a billion dollars to play football the next 6 years, trust me…if Joe Flacco goes down, they have a cocktail comprised of at least 3 or 4 painkillers or anabolics that are definitely on that banned substance list.
And isn’t that what you would want for your guy? If your team was paying that amount of money for a guy who is clearly that injured, don’t you want your trainers to inject him with some crazy shit so that he can get back on the field as soon as possible?
Now, I will say that this does seem like kind of a cheap excuse to defend those who use steroids. But we all know this happens, and will continue to happen regardless of the rules, regulations, and testing procedures with which all sports are desperately trying to keep up to speed. I can’t say every athlete is clean and I can’t say evetry athlete is crooked. All I’m saying is maybe Gay and Powell aren’t completely at fault here. In the scenario that I mentioned earlier, remember that I was using the example of American baseball. In running I’m sure it’s even more cut-throat, possibly even in a literal sense. For some of the smaller countries participating in the World Championships, this could be a life or death issue for the trainers. Holy shit, do you want to be the trainer that has to go back to Ghana with a last place finish? Hell no, they’d probably behead you before you got your luggage. You’d be better off just staying there and doing Edward Snowden’s laundry for the rest of your fucking life.
It might not have the same media sensationalism as when big name guys get popped for PEDs, but maybe we DO need to start knowing the names of some of these trainers. It’s certainly possible, as now we are learning the names of some of the guys who are behind these sports medicine labs. The old adage is “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying”, but I think that might need to be update. I propose a new saying: “If you’re not smart enough to know how to cheat, it is always a possibility for you to find someone who takes care of you that is”. In no way am I endorsing the use of steroids in anyway, shape, or form, but what I am saying is there is a possibility that some of these guys may be just as surprised as we are when that test comes back positive.