Friday, January 30, 2009

Performance-Enhancers: Every Sport's Dirty Little Secret EXCEPT Baseball

There are certain things you have to be honest about if you consider yourself objective. One of those is the subject of your own failings. Conveniently, since I don't claim to be perfectly objective, I don't have to be perfectly honest about my flaws.

Ah, life is full of those happy little coincidences, isn't it?

That said, I will perfectly admit to occasionally getting stuck on a subject. I thought this might be one of those times because I set out to write a third article about the Last Emperor (one and two). This time, I was gonna address the notion that Fedor dominated a watered-down Pride FC Heavyweight Division while there were bigger fish to fry in the UFC.

A couple of funny things happened though while I was researching.

First, I discovered the idea wasn't even worth an article. Emelianenko Fedor (why was the Japanese announcement of his name so much scarier?) made his Pride debut on June 23, 2002. Starting with UFC 37.5—the day before Fedor's debut—and ending with UFC 67—the card where the Pride guys started entering the UFC in force—here are the colossi on the premier UFC cards fighting between 205 and 265 pounds:

Tank Abbot, Gilbert Aldana, Sean Alvarez, Andrei Arlovski, Mike van Arsdale, Paul Buentello, Dan Christison, Wesley Correira, Randy Couture, Marcio Cruz, Alexandre Dantas, Justin Eilers, Ian Freeman, Sean Gannon (whose primary qualification was beating Kimbo Slice), Gabriel Gonzaga, Antoni Hardonk, Brandon Lee Hinkle, James Irvin, Kevin Jordan, Cheick Kongo, Keigo Kunihara, Mike Kyle, Icho Larenas, Kimo Leopoldo, Gan McGee, Carmelo Marrero, John Marsh, Vladimir Matyushenko, Frank Mir, Jeff Monson, Tom Murphy, Mario Neto, Jake O'Brien, Sherman Pendergarst, Anthony Perosh, Pedro Rizzo, Ricco Rodriguez, Eddie Sanchez, Fabiano Scherner, Josh Schockman, Ken Shamrock (remember, this is post-2002), Wade Shipp, Assuerio Silva, Wes Sims, Tim Sylvia, Tra Telligan, Brandon Vera, Christian Wellisch, Vernon White, Jonathan Wiezorek, and Travis Wiuff.

It's a long paragraph that's incredibly short on elite talent. Outside of Couture and Mir, you could argue there's zero elite MMA talent there.

There's just no need to run through the guys Fedor Emelianenko was facing while these punching bags and/or one-dimensional fighters were 'battling" it out in the UFC. Once Pride really crumbled?

Hey, you'll get no argument from me that the Last Emperor has been fighting peasants.

The second thing that I noticed was an annoying little phrase kept popping up: after the bout, fighter X tested positive for anabolic steroids. So I did a quick search for mixed martial artists who had tested positive for some sort of performance-enhancer. This list is shorter, but far more significant:

Tim "The Maine-iac (on steroids)" Sylvia—6'8", 263 lbs.
Antonio "Big Foot (on steroids)" Silva—6'4", 300 lbs.
Stephan "The American Psycho (on steroids)" Bonnar—6'4", 205 lbs.
Josh "The Baby-Faced Assassin (on steroids)" Barnett—6'3", 250 lbs.
Kimo Leopoldo (on steroids...and a cross ironically)—6'3", 235 lbs.
Royce Gracie (on steroids)—6'1", 176 lbs.
Vitor "The Phenom (on steroids)" Belfort—6'0", 205 lbs.
Chris "The Crippler (on steroids)" Leben—5'11", 185 lbs.
Kevin "The Monster (on steroids)" Randleman—5'10", 205 lbs.
Phil "The New York Bad-Ass (on steroids)" Baroni—5'9", 170 lbs.
Sean "The Muscle Shark (on steroids)" Sherk—a Napoleonic 5'6", 155 lbs.

I listed the height and weight just to show that the guys caught with their hands in the juice jar can be found across the weight classes.

In fairness, some of these guys deny they were knowingly using and some have legit excuses (particularly Randleman). Unfortunately, this is an era in professional athletics when even the "clean" performers are highly suspect by association.

Many feel the superstars are guilty by association. So the ones who actually piss hot? Done and done.

And I gotta believe there're more coming and others who'll never be caught.

For example, who believes that Brock Lesnar never hit the sauce? The guy spent several years in professional wrestling where guys are dropping left and right from their years of steroid abuse. It kinda defies logic (and the naked eye) to argue that Lesnar didn't use for at least a little while.

Yet, how much and how often do you hear about steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance-enhancers outside of baseball?

There's the occasional story about Lance Armstrong and a momentary blip when some National Football League contributor gets busted. Maybe a story here or there when somebody dies from 'roid rage or other abuse-related complications.

But in baseball, it's all steroids and all the time: preseason, regular season, postseason, offseason.

Barry Lamar Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire (and now his brother whose name I thankfully can't remember), Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Grimsley, George Mitchell, Jose Canseco, ad nauseam.

Well, here's my last list and it's incomplete:

American football
Canadian football
Australian-rules football
Field hockey
Ice Hockey
Ten-pin bowling
Volleyball (although she was East German)
Track and field
Race-walking (I'm not kidding)
Water polo
Gymnastics (including rhythmic)
Shooting (and, it's sisters sport, rapping)

That's a list of athletic-related activities that've had participants test positive for performance-enhancers ONLY i.e. individuals pinched for marijuana, cocaine, and other recreational drugs are absent (unless a couple who tested positive for narcotic metabolites got through).

I'll close with two observations.

1. My title is a little misleading. OK, it's flat out wrong because the National Basketball Association is nowhere to be found on that list. Run one of athletes who tested positive for marijuana and the NBA would be all over the place. I guess weed ain't a gateway to steroids.

2. I've always assumed it's the steroid abuse that is dangerous, not the abuse in combination with a particular activity. So what makes baseball so special?

No comments: